by Ann Roth, contemporary (2007)
Zebra, $6.99, ISBN 978-0-8217-8034-3
Another Life is marketed as a contemporary romance, but this is actually woman's fiction. Friendships, self-discovery, mother and daughter - that kind of thing. If you don't mind this kind of stories and you have a soft spot for feel-good stories of widows and divorcées overcoming adversity, you can do far worse than Another Life.
Society wife Mary Beth Mason is trying to juggle between trying to be the ideal wife to her husband Stephen and keeping a rebellious fourteen-year old daughter Aurora in life when she receives news that Stephen is in critical condition after a heart attack. What is he doing in Seattle when Mary Beth is led to believe that her husband is in Singapore? At any rate, she rushes to the hospital in question. As she waits for news of Stephen's surgery, she bonds with another woman named Caroline. Caroline's about ten years younger than Mary Beth, but Caroline is also married to a much older man. They both have a daughter and their husband is always away on business trips. Caroline's husband is also somewhere in this hospital, having had a heart attack...
Yes, you've guessed it, folks - Caroline and Mary Beth soon realize that they are married to the same man. Stephen dies before the night is over, leaving the two women to deal with each other. But the matter isn't as simply resolved by dividing the ashes after the cremation and the two women therefore never have to see each other again, though. Stephen leaves Mary Beth with nothing but a debt amounting to slightly more than two million dollars. Enraged and believing that her no-good husband took out all their money to spend on that other woman, Mary Beth proceeds to sue Caroline. Caroline, realizing that Stephen left her with no money, is not happy and proceeds to believe that Mary Beth is just a greedy bitch out for revenge.
Ah, but life is funny in that soon the two women will eventually find themselves not just at peace with each other but also good friends with each other as they try to clean up the mess that Stephen left them both knee deep in. Yes, there is love waiting in the wings for both women (and no, not with each other - this isn't that kind of story, sorry), but romance is just a very small part of the story. If romance is what you are looking for first and foremost, you will be disappointed by this story.
I personally find Mary Beth a stronger character than Caroline but that's because Caroline has this lawyer fellow doting on her and holding her hand all the way since Stephen's death, so Mary Beth is the one who experiences the most character growth here as she struggles to find a job and keep the roof over the heads of her and her daughter. Besides, it's hard to feel much sympathy for Caroline when she has her house and most of her assets while Mary Beth has to sell everything she has. I find Mary Beth a more interesting character, simply put.
What I like about this story is how real the emotions experienced by the two women can be. The confusion, the anger - all that feels true here. Both Caroline and Mary Beth have their own personalities here. No one is a villain or a heroine. They are just two women who wouldn't have met were not for the fact that they married the same two-timing no-good jerk.
My only issue with this story is how the author often relies on happy happenstance to get things to fall into place for our heroines here. Another Life has some heavy and hard-hitting emotions, but there is at the same time never any doubt that things will be fine for everyone at the end. If anything, things fall into place for Mary Beth and Caroline too easily, I feel, to the point that fortunate turns of events are showing up one after the one towards the end of the story as if the two women have hit some kind of karma lottery jackpot or something.
Oh, and while Aurora can feel pretty real for a teenager at times, Caroline's daughter Jax is horrible. She lisps and she says things that are too sage for her age. In other words, Jax is Ann Roth dressed up in kiddie clothes and auditioning to be in a sequel to Full House.
All things considered, Another Life is a very pleasant story that sometimes hit closer to home than I'd expect it to. The author makes it too easy for the characters in the end, I feel, which dilutes much of the impact the story could otherwise make on me. But apart from that minor issue, there are still more than enough here for me to enjoy.
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