A woman glimpses the lives she could have led in Colston’s (The Undiscovered Goddess, 2012) well-crafted novel.
Charlotte Goodwin is in her early 30s, and while she’s not quite miserable, she’s not exactly happy, either. Her dreams of a career as a ballet dancer were derailed by injury, so she works in the accounting firm of family friend and “adopted parental figure” Sheldon Marshal. Lately, Shel has begun to press her about “awkward and heavy topics. The meaning of life. Love. Adventure.” He also urges her to stop expending energy on her on-again, off-again romance with his nephew, Graham. One night, furious with Graham and drunk on wine, Charlotte is stunned to learn of Shel’s sudden death; as a result, she stumbles into the street and is hit by a car. As she recovers—with Graham, a seemingly changed man, by her side—she starts having strange, hyper-realistic dreams. In one, she’s pregnant and running an Italian restaurant in Chicago. In others, she’s a beach-dwelling bartender and surfer in Hawaii; in New York City with Graham, in a marriage torn by addiction and infidelity; or running a ballet studio in Paris. In each setting, she’s also romantically involved with a kind, giving man named Joe Coletti. Soon she finds herself yearning for these dreams so that she can escape into her various lives with Joe. She starts asking herself impossible questions: What if these aren’t dreams but visions? What if the universe is telling her that she could still make a different choice? In the hands of a less skillful writer, the five interlocking narratives would be four too many. Colston, however, handles the various storylines deftly, grounding each in rich sensory detail. One passage, for example, contrasts the “herbaceous scent of garlic and butter” in a dream’s Italian eatery with the “bleach and panic” of her hospital room. She also provides Charlotte with a strong voice; her conflicting feelings of desire and frustration regarding Graham, and her disbelief that a man like Joe, who treats her well, could possibly exist, are vivid and real throughout.
Readers will be anxious for a sequel to this engaging novel, as one book of Charlotte’s lives isn’t enough.