In her second novel, The Possibilities, Kaui Hart Hemmings again displays the gift for portraying believably messy families in remarkably picturesque settings that marked her 2007 debut, The Descendants. The setting is the snowy ski town of Breckenridge, Colprado rather than sunny Hawaii this time, but Hemmings continues to explore the idea that living in paradise doesn’t necessarily make life any easier.
Sarah St. John entered adulthood and motherhood at roughly the same time when she became a single parent at 21. As The Possibilities opens, three months after the death of Sarah’s 22-year-old son, Cully, in an accident on the mountain, she’s slowly discovering how life without him might look. She’s also learning things she never knew about his life through others who have lost him, including Cully’s father Billy, her own father Lyle, Cully’s lifelong friend Morgan and Morgan’s mother Suzanne, Sarah’s best friend.
And then there’s Kit, who turns up at Sarah’s door offering to help shovel snow and leaves behind a datebook with notes in Cully’s handwriting. No one seems to know anything about Kit, but she seems to know them, and while it soon becomes evident just how well she knew Sarah’s son, the answer to that particular question raises a whole set of new ones.
The setup is more dramatic than the telling, and that makes The Possibilities affecting fiction. Hemmings’ style is low-key and straightforward, and the character interactions and dialogue feel true to prickly, complicated (and sometimes bizarrely funny) life. Every parent fears what Sarah has experienced, and her struggles with it are engaging, relatable, and moving. It’s been seven years since Hemmings’ promising debut; The Possibilities was worth the wait.
In the idyllic ski town of Breckenridge, Colorado, Sarah St. John is reeling. Three months ago, her twenty-two-year-old son, Cully, died in an avalanche. Though single, Sarah is hardly alone in her grief. Her father, a retiree, tries to distract her with gadgets from the QVC home shopping channel. Sarah’s best friend offers life advice by venting details of her own messy divorce. Even Cully’s father reemerges, stirring more emotions and confusion than Sarah needs. Still, Sarah feels she is facing the stages of grief—the anger, the sadness, the letting go—alone.
Barely ready to face the fact she will never again hear the swoosh of her son’s ski pants, or watch him skateboard past her window, Sarah is surprised when a strange girl arrives on her doorstep. Unexpected and unexplained, she bears a secret from Cully that could change all of their lives forever.
Kaui Hart Hemmings highlights the subtle poignancies of grief and relationships in this stunning look at people faced with impossible choices in the wake of a tragedy. With the unsentimental and refreshingly wry style famous for presenting trouble in paradise in The Descendants, Hemmings in The Possibilities considers the difficult questions of what we risk to keep our loved ones close.
“I pretend that I’m not from here. I’m a woman from Idaho, on vacation with friends. I’m a newlywed from Indiana. An unremarkable guest at the Village Hotel, exploring Breckenridge, Colorado, waiting for a valet to bring her rented car around. A drop of water falls on my head. I look up at the green awning and move so that I’m fully covered. A black Escalade blasting music enters the roundabout. The car is huge, and I expect someone huge to go with it, but out come three young boys–the driver, short, the passengers, tall–and the valet, also a young boy, wordlessly takes the driver’s keys, hands him a ticket, and nods his head.
“My son, Cully, who used to work here as a valet just three months ago, told me that he hated to park cars for people his age, and I can see why.”