Three months after an avalanche killed her son, a single mother takes tentative steps toward healing in Hemmings’ (The Descendants, 2007, etc.) astute and sensitive examination of relationships, loss and grief.
Swamped in a vortex of survivor’s guilt and unanswered questions about 22-year-old Cully’s skiing accident near their Breckenridge, Colo., home, Sarah St. John finds no comfort returning to her job hosting a TV show for tourists. Her father, a retiree addicted to QVC, has taken up permanent residence in her home; her best friend, Suzanne, though supportive, has her own problems and sometimes voices unsympathetic and inappropriate thoughts (“Divorce is the death of a marriage”). Sarah fluctuates between paralyzing sorrow and intense anger. She questions her parenting skills and seethes when a well-meaning acquaintance tries to forge a link between Cully’s death and the skiing death of her own son years ago by suggesting they both died doing something they loved. Discomfited by a large amount of cash and baggies of marijuana she and Suzanne find while sorting through Cully’s belongings, Sarah tortures herself with thoughts that her son was perceived as a bad person and is then disconcerted to learn that he shared confidences with his father and grandfather that he didn’t share with her. When Kit, a young waitress, enters the picture and claims she and Cully had a relationship, Sarah is leery but offers her support and assistance. The journey they take to an event billed as a memorial (arranged by Suzanne’s daughter) is mutually beneficial as Sarah mulls a proposal from Kit and slowly awakens to the understanding that her grief and sense of loss are not exclusive. Heartache, she realizes, comes in different forms and depths and is expressed in a variety of ways. No matter what, though, pain is pain. Hemmings writes a piercing, empathetic story about parenthood and unfathomable heartbreak and manages to bring humor and hope to her characters.
Emotionally complex and relatable to all, it will be particularly understandable to those who’ve experienced the inexplicable, devastating loss of a loved one.