Dara, Tommie and Meg have been best friends since childhood. Over the decades, they’ve seen each other through marriages, children and hard times: Dara’s breast cancer, Tommie’s divorce and the death of Tommie’s only child, Jessica, who was 22 and pregnant when she died from leukemia. Dara is at first reluctant to acknowledge what’s happening to Tommie; she finds herself enjoying a trip to Las Vegas, especially cherishing “the sensation…that she still seemed to be moving in an unreal world where nothing bad could happen.” When Tommie lets slip a long-buried secret—Jerry, Dara’s husband, was actually Jessica’s father—Dara thinks: “This must be what it feels like to die.” Hurt and reeling, Dara flees to Las Vegas, where she becomes friends with a young dancer who puts her up. Eventually, she finds work as a waitress and meets a charming widower. As she reconsiders her life, Dara will have to decide what she really wants and where she belongs. Paul (Sins of the Empress, 2013, etc.) deftly sketches this quickly moving story, impressively differentiating the three best friends. As the novel begins, for example, Dara plays bridge because all her friends do, even though she hates it; she’s so genteel that she “had never said ‘sucks’ out loud,” but by the end of the novel, when Dara is considering returning home, she’s able to tell Meg, “I hate bridge, and the book club sucks.” Paul gives Dara an interesting foil in Margaret/Amber/Tatiana, the name-changing young dancer who gives her a place to stay and challenges some preconceptions; her relationship with lonely widower Hal is also delicately handled. Paul adds nuance and feeling to what could be a simple wish-fulfillment fantasy.
Although the motif of a fed-up middle-aged woman taking off to consider her options isn’t new, Paul delivers a thoughtful take on it.