Beholden
by DB Binns, contemporary (2007)
iUniverse, $13.95, ISBN 978-0-595-40329-5


Beholden revolves around the lives of a married couple and their various objects of adulterous affection. Kevin and Pam Shaughnessy have been married for a while now and they seem to be happy. That is, until Kevin becomes more and more adamant about having kids while Pam does not share his sentiments. As a result, Kevin gravitates towards a single mother Hilary Pawlikowski whose son he is a mentor for. Meanwhile, Pam decides to donate some of her bone marrow to the leukemia-stricken local hockey star Brett Warfield only to feel a pull of attraction towards that man.

Now, how are these people going to extricate themselves from such a messy situation? As Pam gets thrust into the limelight as That Donor for hockey star Brett Warfield, Kevin and she will become even more estranged from each other.

DB Binns really knows her stuff, I must say, when it comes to depicting how a marriage can fall apart. What seems like a small crack in the marriage ends up turning into something like a dam that burst open and I can't turn away from following the trainwreck. I know this can come off as something uncomplimentary but I am not being facetious when I say that Ms Binns sure knows how to portray such an unpleasant situation in a realistic manner without resorting to melodrama.

The author has a firm grasp on her characters' emotions. Both Kevin and Pam are responsible for their situation and there are no easy "you're wrong, I'm right" solutions here. Ms Binns understands that and does not insult my intelligence by shying away from highlighting the flaws of her characters. Her characters aren't stupid, however. They know when they are wrong. It's just that sometimes they have no idea how to make things right.

I also love the fact that Hilary and Brett are well-fleshed characters instead of cardboard Other Man or Other Woman characters. Both have well-drawn strengths and flaws, making them as real as Pam and Kevin in this story. There are no easily-categorized stereotypes here, just four people who are stuck in a messy situation with no easy black-and-white resolutions.

Therefore, it is a significant let-down when the author introduces a too-convenient resolution straight out of a melodramatic TV movie of the week for our unhappy couple. I am not against happy endings - I won't read romance novels if I do, heh - but after all that effort the author has put into creating a complicated situation involving complicated characters, the uncomplicated and even saccharine last few chapters of this story feel like a big cop-out. Perhaps a more ambiguous ending, with the characters making a tentative attempt at repairing their marriage, would have worked better than the current ending where the absoluteness of the happy ending feels oddly clashing with how the author has written her story up to that point.

Beholden for the most part is a very well-written and sensitively portrayed story of how a marriage could go wrong despite the best intentions of the parties involved. The author deserves plenty of kudos for her efforts at characterization. I also enjoy the backdrop of hockey-mania in Philadelphia - the author manages to get me feeling that I am right there in those hockey matches she is describing in her story. Therefore, as disappointed as I am with the resolution of this story, I still think Beholden deserves my two thumbs up.

Rating: 87


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