Title: Skipping a Beat
Author: Sarah Pekkanen
Release date: February 2011
Publisher: Washington Square Press
Genre: Fiction, chick lit
Rating: 3 out of 5
Julie and Michael Dunhill have it all: a gorgeous mansion in DC, a multi-million dollar business, co-ownership in the local basketball team. But everything they have fought for in life–money, prestige, popularity–has only driven them further apart.
After Michael suffers a heart attack, his outlook on life changes radically. Something happened in the four-plus minutes when his heart stopped beating, and he knows he doesn’t have much time to right the wrongs he’s perpetrated against others.
Julie has gotten comfortable in her opulent new world, though she constantly worries it will be ripped out from under her. Now that Michael is acting so strangely, she wonders if the time has come to call that divorce lawyer.
But something stays her hand, and as she becomes re-acquainted with her husband, she begins remembering what it was like to truly be loved.
Quick and dirty: This book has EMOTIONS.
I don’t read lot of chick lit, so I thought it would be difficult to review this book. After all, what do I have to compare it to? Fly Away Home by Jennifer Weiner? Sure, Julie struggles with unrealistic expectations of her weight, she has problems with her marriage, she lives in a rung of society that (thankfully!) I will never reach… hey, maybe these are more alike than I thought.
But there was one crucial difference between the books: Skipping a Beat embarrassed me on the metro.
Not because I was reading chick lit when I usually reach for a classic, but because Pekkanen’s book made me cry. Several times! I expected it to be fun and light-hearted, and so I was as surprised as my fellow commuters when the tears began welling up.
And let me tell you, the metro is pretty much the worst place to cry. But I kept reading, in part because of the startling ways in which I was beginning to identify with Julie.
First of all, Julie’s relationship with her father was dysfunctional enough to remind me of my own. Julie watched helplessly as her dad descended into a gambling addiction; he changed from a loving benefactor to a sheepish parasite. And his example led Julie to misplace her trust in money. But there is hope for Julie and her father; he is eagerly waiting for her to begin addressing the years of pain and disappointment, waiting to show her how he has changed—all for her.
It is pretty obvious that Michael, Julie’s childhood sweetheart, is going to die (and stay dead) at some point. Hell, the book opens with: “When my husband, Michael, died for the first time…” Throughout the book, as you discover how Julie and Michael’s paths diverged from one another and watch as they find their way to one another again, there is always a dark cloud barely visible on the horizon. The wonderful times they begin to have is always overshadowed by the fear of the other shoe dropping.
And that is why I cried. I cried because of the lurking pain that I still feel when I think about how hard it is to say goodbye. I cried because of Julie and Michael’s incredible time together when he knew his clock was rapidly running down; my sister never had the chance to reconcile with her husband, Josh, after a fight they’d had. I cried when I realized that Julie would conceive a child during the brief, happy time between Michael’s two deaths; I have four nieces and nephews whom my sister is now raising on her own.
This book wasn’t life-changing. It wasn’t terribly written, but it won’t win any Pulitzers. (Although, after reading Great House by Nicole Krauss, I remember the importance of a strong, powerful plot and simple, unfettered characterization. But that’s a whole ‘nother review.) I’m already forgetting some of the details of the plot, and I wouldn’t recommend it to readers who don’t enjoy chick lit. Or those who don’t believe in the afterlife.
The premise—that love triumphs over all, even death—did not speak to me. The idea of coming back from the dead with a set amount of time change your life and elicit forgiveness from those you’ve wronged is utterly fantastical. In real life, you never know how long you have with the ones you love, and sometimes you can’t say goodbye.
But the book made me think about how happy we were with Josh and all the good times we had. Even when things were at their worst, our little ragtag family only grew closer together. By the end of the book, where the waterworks should have been picking up speed, I felt strangely comforted in the knowledge that we didn’t need a miraculous three weeks to say all the things we needed to say; we’d already said them the whole time we’d known each other.
As corny as it sounds, sometimes a book can be great just for reminding you to value your loved ones before it’s too late.