Alison and Claire grew up together in the South but their friendship has become strained even before Claire writes a tell-all novel, a loosely disguised memoir in which Alison is portrayed as an afterthought to the flamboyant heroine. Alison now lives in New Jersey with her husband Charlie and their two children, while Claire married Ben, and stayed in Manhattan. Driving home in the dark from Claire’s launch party, after several blue martinis, Alison hesitates and takes a wrong turn, ending up in a terrible car accident. The ripple effects of the accident and how it changes all four and their marriages form the basis of this novel.
The description made the book sound like a Jodi Picoult, now almost a brand of trauma/angst related fiction, but it was much more subtle than her writing, which is both a plus and a minus. Author Christina Baker Kline writes fluidly and carefully chooses every word – but at times the pace was too slow for me (and I am a patient reader) and I was frustrated by Alison’s passive personality. I thought novel was most effective in the flashbacks to the past, providing insight to the characters, particularly Charlie, who came across as very unsympathetic but at least the reader finally understood some of his motivation. I liked how the author provided a glimpse from each character’s point of view, and provided detailed minor characters too. I enjoyed the depiction of Alison’s parents, anxious to help in a crisis but doing so in their own inimitable way.
Of the four main characters, only Ben (an architect whose devotion to his work was very convincing) was really appealing, and it was therefore difficult to understand how anyone could fall out of love with him (although obviously I know this happens all the time). Similarly, because I didn’t much care for the other characters, I wasn’t invested in the outcome of the story.
There are a lot of themes in this novel that would lend themselves to good discussion at a book group (friendship, betrayal, city living vs. suburbia, how staying home with the children changes one, how one’s life can change in an instant, how different people deal with tragedy, etc.). However, while I liked it, I am not sure I would recommend it to people who only read one book a month (not that I approve of such people!). It took such a long time to get really into it, and I worry that some might get discouraged and not finish, which defeats the purpose of a book group. Those who wanted to see a lot of character development in Alison as she deals with the lingering effects of tragedy would be disappointed: she spends more time coping with her marriage (which may be more realistic short term, if not long term). This review was part of the TLC Book Tour, and I encourage you to check out other stops on the Bird in Hand tour. Thank you to Trish for including me and to Harper Collins for providing a copy of the book. I enjoy going back and forth between older books (this month I have been reading a lot of Patricia Wentworth, an English mystery writer from the early 20th century) and new releases such as this one.