May 18, 2014

Book review: Kaui Hart Hemmings dissects another unconventional family

‘The Possibilities’ is populated by characters dealing with various degrees of grief.

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In Kaui Hart Hemmings’ new novel, The Possibilities, she returns to the familiar territory of a resort town and an unconventional family dealing with grief. While this novel bears inevitable comparisons to her bestseller The Descendants, Hemmings finds some new, interesting twists.

This time Hemmings takes us to Breckenridge, Colo. Sarah St. John is a single mom who is grieving for her 22-year-old son, Cully, who died in an avalanche. She still hasn’t really gotten out of the beginning stages of grief.

She’s filled with anger and self-doubt, but back at work and attempting to get back to normal. Only her new normal is a mess. She struggles through most of the novel with an unsympathetic dialogue in her head.

But Sarah is not alone in her grief. Hemmings’ quirky supporting cast includes Sarah’s retiree dad, Lyle, her best friend, Suzanne, and Cully’s dad, Billy. Sarah and Billy’s college fling led to Cully, but they never married and managed to stay friendly and supportive.

Sarah lives with Lyle, who is addicted to QVC and loves to speak his mind. He had a close relationship with his grandson, something he didn’t always have with his daughter. He, too, was a single parent, raising Sarah alone after her mother died when Sarah was 5. He is also grieving for his career as one of the pioneers of Breckenridge. He is comic relief when he gets going on a variety of topics, from toads to pot to gentrification.

Suzanne is wealthy and divorced, grieving for her marriage and her youth. She and Sarah have almost nothing in common but managed to raise their children together. Suzanne’s friendship is both a help and a hindrance to Sarah on so many levels. The two friends are great to offer a glass of wine and a supportive word, but they are both too selfish to really try to understand each other’s grief.

So much of what Sarah struggles with is more than Cully’s death. She questions her choices back to the day she decided to watch TV instead of let her father hold her to tell her about her mother. She grieves for the career she could have had if not for Cully and the relationship she missed out on had she waited for Billy to grow up.

Then a young girl named Kit shows up at Sarah’s door and everything shifts for her. Kit has a secret that could change Sarah’s life forever, and she’s forced to again make a difficult decision. Does she follow her head or her heart? And can she do so with no regrets?

“You can’t compare and rank heartache. Pain is pain is pain. There is no precise measurement. No quarter cup.” Hemmings understands human nature and the complicated levels and forms of grief. Most of all, she sets loss apart from regret and asks the reader to do the same.

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