Second Chances
by Marlene Fanta Shyer, contemporary (2001)
Kensington, $6.99, ISBN 1-57566-791-6


The back blurb of this story is deceptive. I am led to believe that this is another of those annoying Danielle Steele wannabe thing. Fern Michaels' stories still traumatize me, and I am afraid of getting another encore. Still, what's inside is a pleasant surprise. A very pleasant surprise.

It's the story about a fifty-four year old woman Julie and her three really horrid daughters Karen, Savannah, and Gaby. Savannah gets my vote for the bitch that needs putting down this year. Anyway, I'm getting ahead of myself.

Julie's husband is Gilbert. They have a perfect marriage, so perfect that of course some crap stuff must happen. Crap happens when after a late party where booze flowed too freely, a very tired Julie fell asleep behind the wheels. The resulting car crash sent Gilbert into a coma.

Julie refuses to pull the plug, and she is adamant that Gilbert will recover in time for their trip to Sardinia come Mother's Day. She will have to take up dancing too. So she does, even when her daughter think she is losing it. And in her grief, she realizes that she is getting wee too attached to dancing instructor, a handsome man in his thirties named Taras, for her own good.

Meanwhile, eldest daughter Karen... er, I know she's married to an older man, but she's pretty much wallpaper. Except when she's shrilly whining like a banshee, that is. Susannah, the middle one - OH MY GOD - is a complete bitch who is jealous of her sisters and is jealous of her much older husband's daughter (her stepdaughter) and she bitchbitchbitches and whinewhinewhines about it even when Mommy is losing it and Daddy is in a coma. See, Savannah is having so much problems - her stepdaughter is coming to America and she doesn't like! Whine, whine, whine. Dumb hag. Gaby, meanwhile, is getting married to a Mr Perfect, but she is addicted to sleeping with a colleague. Oh, oh, oh.

As far as I'm concerned, all three obnoxious daughters can go jump off a high cliff. Julie is a very well-written character. She's not perfect - some readers may wince as she embarks on an affair with Taras even as her husband lies comatose in a hospital bed, but the author manages to portray Julie's psyche very well. Rebound, friendship, a need for solace - I understand, and I empathize. At the same time she also feels guilt as she embarks on her soul searching. How she decides in the end to live for now, if not forever, brings a tear to my eye.

Taras is written as a Mr Perfect and Sensitive Single Father for so long that his sudden reversal of personality towards the end doesn't make sense. I can understand the author's agenda - she probably wants Taras to be the final catalyst for Julie's growth. Still, there's a semblance of a happy ending here, not a perfect happy ending, but one of promises. Sometimes that's the best type of endings.

Julie and Taras' story is wonderful to follow. Which is why I grit my teeth and try not to scream whenever the Whiny Bitchy Daughters intrude and start whining to Momma. Why wouldn't Momma listen to them? How dare Momma see Taras? Never mind that these Bitches marry men far older than they, but Momma with a younger man - that is not fair! And on and on they whine and bitch, to a point that I really wish Julie will turn into a werewolf and give them the monster mash surprise.

Second Chances is a beautiful story of a middle-aged woman coming to terms the changes in her life. There are moments of potentially icky sentimentality, but the author reins herself, sticking to simple, well-written, and down-to-earth drama. Sure, adultery, bitchiness, betrayal - this book has them all in truckloads. But it also has ample love, hope, and friendship to balance the gloominess. And best of all, Julie is real, she is a real woman with both strengths and weaknesses.

This story isn't a romance, but it sure works my emotions up better than most romance novels ever could. When I finish the book feeling so light as if I could just fly even as I wipe my teary eyes, I think, why, this is it, man. This is a keeper.

Rating: 94


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