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Sunday, February 27, 2011

Book Review - Skipping A Beat

Today's book review is part of a blogger sweepstakes.  I received an Advanced Reader Copy (Free Book!) in order to provide this review, but no other compensation.  What follows is my honest opinion.

Skipping A Beat, by Sarah Pekkanen
Washington Square Press (Simon and Schuster). February 2010. 327 pages (also includes Readers Club Guide.) ISBN: 978-1-4516-0982-0 Fiction.


Julia Dunhill is an exclusive party planner in Washington DC, married to her high school sweetheart, Michael.  If asked, she would tell anyone she was happy.  Why wouldn't she be?  She has a business she loves, her husband is the most successful entrepreneur in a decade, and she lives in a mansion that takes her breath away.  Julia would tell anyone she was happy.  Happy is the same as satisfied, as content, right?

But don't make assumptions, yet.  This is not your typical, "it is hard to be rich" novel.  Skipping A Beat is a novel of love and loneliness, fidelity and fear, life and death.

The story begins with Julie setting up a lavish fundraiser, and Michael in sudden cardiac arrest.  I am not giving anything away to say that he lives.  But it is Michael's experience during his four minutes and eight seconds of death that shapes the entire story that follows.

Back when they were just Mike and Julie, the two were secure in their love and their ability to fight their way out of their small West Virginia town and their unhappy households. They dreamed of a glamorous life, and when Michael suddenly hit the jackpot with his start-up company, life seemed to be on the fast-track to fabulous!

So what is Julia to do when her fabulous, if not satisfying life is irrevocably changed by her husband's near death experience?  What can she do when her husband decides to change everything?  As Julia so clearly states,
Four minutes and eight seconds.  That's how long my husband, Michael Dunhill, was dead.
Four minutes and eight seconds.  That's how long it took for my husband to become a complete stranger to me. (p. 8)
Isn't that the best hook ever?

Verdict:  I liked it

Sarah Pekkanen starts with an unusual premise for an exploration of marriage.  And it works.  I might not have been caught up in a novel just about the complicated, twisted turns of a regular marriage.  But add in a near death epiphany, unimaginable wealth and a crisis of conscience, and I couldn't look away.

This was a very emotionally honest book.  As in The Opposite of Me, Pekkanen expertly explores a dynamic relationship to the point where the reader is just as conflicted and invested as the protagonists.  I really felt Julia's struggle as she weighed her love for her husband against her pain and mistrust.  Julia and Michael's marriage is bruised, and as a reader, I ached with them.  I recommend this novel to anyone who loves character-driven stories and has made an investment in Kleenex Corporation.  You are going to need the tissues.

However, one word of warning, I have a feeling that readers who have a rocky relationship in their lives might find this story hits close to home.  It is that real.

As an aside, I liked Pekkanen's first novel The Opposite of Me, as well  It is an interesting exploration of how different twin sisters can be, and the turns life can take that bring them closer.  I admit that there were moments in the book when I was unable to completely buy in to the plot.  And there were choices the protagonists made that I didn't feel were adequately supported by their characters or actions.  But I loved the honesty in the sisterly relationship; these twins are two very different people who both love and envy each other.  All in all, I thought The Opposite of Me was satisfying, and a strong first novel.

(I actually received three copies of Skipping A Beat.  Two from Pekkanen's publisher, after a loooong wait and much confusion, and one from another blog where I won a random drawing. I am going to share copies with family, and donate one to my local library.)

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