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CBR9 #8: The Realm of Last Chances by Steve Yarbrough

realmHere’s another book that I liked and I don’t know why.  Something about the structure worked well for me.  It felt like the book was made up of slices and I only had a vague sense of the timeline, and I liked that.  Time is told through New England weather and I wonder if readers from places where there are no seasons got stuck trying to figure out how long this story lasted.

The plot is one of frustration.  Kristen and Cal have relocated from California to Massachusetts.  They’re in their fifties and this was not an expected move, but Kristen lost her job in higher ed administration, and you move to where the next job is, even when it’s a step down.  I don’t think Cal has a job.  He exists.

This was one of the things I liked about this book.  Kristen never defines or explains her second marriage.  We know when her first marriage ended, it was a complete shock and even looking back decades later, she doesn’t see any warning signs of what was coming.  With Cal, it’s simpler.  They ask for what they need.  If there is silence, it’s because no one wants anything.  Cal detests Kristen’s work and academic life, but rather than punish her, he simply waits to see if she will want to talk about things.  Kristen seems to like this freedom within her marriage, although there are times when she wonders what it would be like to love something as much as Cal loves music.

It was fascinating to watch them together because they seemed completely separate, and yet others saw their partnership.  Perhaps neither one could see it until someone outside showed them.

Kristen finds herself frustrated and lonely in her new world.  Cal has music and is remodeling and fixing their new house.  Kristen has her work, but there’s little comfort there as she tries to adjust to a small Massachusetts college.

A flooded basement leads her to a new friendship with a younger neighbor.  Matt is also alone, even among his friends.  His choices led to losing his job, marriage and kids, and so he keeps to himself and is on pause.  He knows he can’t go back, so he doesn’t bother to move forward.

Kristen is the first person he’s met who both needs him and is entirely self-sufficient.  Their friendship brings comfort and then an affair.  Kristen logically examines the end of her marriage while we see a few slices of Cal’s story and reactions.

What I liked the most about this book is that we never get the full story of Cal and Kristen.  There is a huge reveal about Cal that was fascinating.  There was a earlier reveal, but it’s old news when we find out about it, so it sits in the background until we learn the other story.  I was impressed at how Yarbrough constructed Cal’s personality.  He’s filled with music and disgust.  We see his depression and action.  He seems completely still and I wondered how much of his life he had lived letting things happen to him.  I wanted to know how he and Kristen chose each other, and yet it didn’t matter.

There is extreme violence in this story, and yet the book felt calm and slow, and I can’t figure out how or why.  Yarbrough laid out a clear path for his characters and then took his time following it.  There are a few flashbacks and side steps, but it moves forward and the ending makes sense.  If I had read this when I was younger, I don’t think I would have liked the ending at all.  It works for me now because it’s realistic and shows that life simply is sometimes.

 

Does The Dog Die Spoiler:

There is a dog.  Nothing bad happens to the dog.  Hooray!

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