Just finished: “Accidental Happiness”

Accidental Happiness
Jean Reynolds Page
(selection for next week’s Book Club meeting)

from the book cover:

After her husband’s unexpected death at the age of thirty-six, Gina Melrose becomes a “live-aboard” on his boat, docked at a marina in coastal South Carolina, near the home she and Ben once shared. In this temporary, borrowed existence on the water, she settles into numb survival. But Gina finds her life taking yet another dramatic turn late one night when a woman named Reese disrupts her quiet world. With Reese comes a daughter: a charming girl named Angel. After a rough start, Gina realizes that, strange as it may seem, she’s drawn to both Reese and Angel. Their sudden appearance shatters the stillness-and Gina is remade. She is fascinated by Reese, who seems both invincible and vulnerable-and whose past may hold the key to Gina’s future. Gina begins to realize that for the first time since Ben’s death, she’s getting her senses back. As both pain and joy reenter her world, Gina discovers that she is able to accept feeling in order to live fully once more. But the biggest surprise for Gina is her relationship with Angel. After the painful loss of her sister during childhood, Gina had decided that she would never have children of her own. Struggling through conflicted emotions, Gina’s finds her life unexpectedly transformed by the precocious little girl who may be Ben’s daughter.

My summary:

Gina Melrose is still recovering from the shocking death of her husband, Ben, when Ben’s first wife, Reese, and her daughter, Angel, make an unexpected appearance in her life. Angel may or may not be Ben’s daughter, and Gina – who has never wanted children, due to her lingering ambivalence and guilt over her dead younger sister, Elise – has to work though her feelings about that possibility. Reese arrives in fairly desperate straits, and with other secrets in addition to her daughter’s paternity. The two women, with little to connect them other than Ben, are forced by circumstances to negotiate some common ground, while Gina also works on finding her way through the grief of losing her husband and toward the next stage of her life.

I don’t think I could have read this book a couple of years ago, and had it not been J’s Book Club pick, I’m not sure I would have read it now. Books concerning the aftermath of young widowhood seem to resonate strangely for me – the emotions that the characters experience don’t sound, or feel, much different than my own post-divorce, and it wouldn’t have helped my own long-drawn-out recovery to be thrust back into that – so if a story does that to me, it’s probably getting it emotionally right.

I was someone’s first wife. I’m currently someone else’s second wife. One of the aspects of this book that I found intriguing was the developing relationship between Gina and Reese. When two women have had a husband in common, they know things no one else does (not necessarily all the same things, since every relationship is unique), and it does create a connection between them. And if one of the women is interacting regularly with the other’s child, it’s in everyone’s interest to try to build on that, although it’s not necessary to become best friends, or even coffee buddies. (And it can be done; there are times I think TallGuy’s ex might like me better than she likes him, although I’m not sure that’s saying much.)

The shift in viewpoint from Gina to Reese in alternating chapters was interesting, as was the related use of first-person narration for Gina’s chapters and third-person for Reese’s. (There may be a plot-related reason for the style shift also, but that didn’t really occur to me until I finished reading.) The story moved along well, with secrets unveiled at various intervals. I didn’t find it particularly well-written, but I wouldn’t consider it “fluff” or even “chick lit” – although it revolves around female characters, it’s not superficial enough and doesn’t drop brand names all over the place*. But the tendency of several of the characters to become tearful on a recurring basis, while understandable in context, did try my patience after awhile. It also irritated me, although for no particular reason, that the little blonde girl in the cover illustration doesn’t have any resemblance to the description of Angel in the book, but that’s a quibble.

One of the great things about being in a book club is that it does reading you might not otherwise select for yourself.

*Disclaimer: I’m by no means above reading chick lit or light fiction, by the way, as should already be obvious from some of the entries on this blog, but I tend to avoid the more stereotypical, generic examples of the form. It needs to be good chick lit, with some substance to the characters, plot, and writing. That statement makes it totally fair to call me on it if I ever post an entry on a book that doesn’t have those qualities, and then say I liked it.

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