My rating: 4 of 5 stars
This novel is told from three major characters points of view. When we meet Melanie, she is on a deadline to complete her sixteenth book and it’s not going so well. Let’s just say she is blocked and blocked in a major way but she can’t afford to pay back her advance and wants the next payment upon completion of her manuscript to her publisher. Married for 20 something years, she is 49, menopausal, a mid-listed author and wife to Craig. Craig works independently in the building industry in the Sacramento area, and has taken quite the beating since the 2008 recession financially. They live in a huge home that was meant to be filled with children but sadly infertility took that dream away from them. They live next door to Jill, conveniently a freelance editor and Marco, and they have three young children who Craig and Mel are God parents to. Mel and Jill are part of a writing group in their neighbourhood and take great solace in the friendships they have there.
The first time we get to see Craig’s point of view, we learn that more than just taking a hit financially, Craig and Mel are going into the red each month and have been for a while. Even working every hour of the day he isn’t making enough to support them and has emotionally hidden away from telling Mel the truth. And there is a reason he hasn’t tried his hardest to tell Mel what’s really happening to them financially. Mel is an emotional Houdini, able to check out from anything that she doesn’t want to confront or know the truth about and has been doing so for probably twenty years or more. Craig describes being married to Mel as something he still wants, but its feeling like its more duty than joy; like they have lost sight of a shared dream and have simply drifted along in life.
Jill and Marco are happily married and appear to have it all. She is terrifically successful as an editor, working from home with the children with her at all times, making her the perfect woman. Except that Jill has a few quirks. Like her desire to clean the house from top to bottom every day, several times a day. Not to mention her need to check on the children numerous times a day and during the night too. And especially her need to check that items are working properly by turning things on and off a certain number of times to be sure, to still the quiet voice in her head telling her that her family are going to die and she’s going to lose it all. And there are the pesky nightmares that she suffers terribly from that her own mother simply waves off as unimportant. Marco has some minor worries concerning his father who seems to be losing short term memory but Marco worries more about his wife and the unseen battle she appears to be waging day and night.
Craig man’s up and tells Mel the truth of their financial reality, and predictably Mel pulls away emotionally. It doesn’t help that Craig has been tempted by Serena, a successful, gorgeous woman who he is building a house for. When he confesses that he made the mistake of having a picnic dinner with Serena rather than going to a networking event, Mel assumes the worst. She takes advantage of her friend, recent widow Valerie’s offer to go to Valerie’s lake house, which is three hours away, to concentrate on writing her manuscript for possibly a month, which is when the deadline looms.
Scattered through the story we as readers are engaged in are large portions of text for the manuscript that Mel is writing. We get to see her work through her personal issues via the written page, hinting that writing is possibly the cheapest and best form of therapy. We have the privilege of becoming involved in the story that Mel is writing and the emotional break throughs that she has as the characters weave their way through her words.
Through these varied friendships and activities Mel, Craig and Jill all face their inner and outer demons and grow gradually into a deeper understanding of God and their own faith. Wisdom is found through well timed phone conversations and time set apart in prayer at a Roman Catholic meditation pathway with the twelve stations of the cross. Good advice is sought and followed through from caring medical practitioners. Financial decisions are made and put into action despite the feelings of shame and failure attached to them. A manuscript that isn’t conforming to the standard formula starts to take shape, leading to a book with deeper meaning and a possible nightmare for the publicity department!
This story is one that tackles the issue of faith and trust. It is unabashedly Christian in outlook, but doesn’t suffer from the good two shoes characters or the twee “golly-gee’s” that so many earlier works of Christian fiction suffered under. Times of suffering are portrayed realistically and sympathetically. There are times when characters ask questions of God and a few portions where prayers are uttered by characters but there is no quoting Bible chapter and verse in a holier than thou manner. Very real words of doubt are expressed. The simple faith of a child is conveyed beautifully. The talk of faith, the struggle for trust in the One unseen is sensitively written.
At the end of every chapter is a quote relating to what is coming next from quotable people, not all necessarily Christian, but with some great words of wisdom. Yttrup writes about issues that people can relate to but it never feels as if she is preaching at you. The characters develop through the course of the story, moving forward emotionally in a positive manner. This is a skilfully written work of fiction that is as inspiring as it is entertaining.