Maddi Sojourner's Reviews > Skipping a Beat

Skipping a Beat by Sarah Pekkanen
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Oct 04, 11

bookshelves: book-club
Read in October, 2011

Three and a half stars.

I liked this story, but it's the literary equivalent of that late 70s/early 80s fashion trend where clothesmakers put all the seams on the outside for a while. Pekkanen isn't content with telling a good story and trusting us to make the connections, she keeps smashing us over the head with every commonality and technique she uses. So it's not enough for us to see that protagonist Julia was scarred by her father's gambling addiction, she's going to tell us again and again why she made the decisions she did because of what happened when her father ruined her family's finances and standing. Even a simple riddle told by a young boy she befriends in the park becomes a heavy-handed simile for how she looked at her husband's co-workers. And believe me, this book abounds with similes, because Pekkanen rarely lets a metaphor stand unmolested.

The premise is that Julia and her husband Michael have become successful but drifted apart, then Michael has a near-death-experience and undergoes a radical personality change because of it. He decides to give away all his fortune, every last dollar he ever made, his business, and both houses. Because of Julia's fear of financial failure, she insisted they keep their money separate so she has no claim on his natural drinks firm or the homes. She feels that she's accepted his giving himself to his business but the high life is the reward, and now he's unilaterally taking that away. So, she's understandably furious with him.

This story could have been better in a couple of ways, which is probably why I'm frustrated with it. There's an element of magical realism in Michael's experience of being "dead" for four minutes, but Pekkanen didn't pull that off convincingly. And I've already mentioned my frustration in her not letting me appreciate connections and symbols on my own; it's literary fiction so dumbed-down that it might as well pass for useless chick-lit. There's a place for that sort of thing, but this aspired to be more than that.

Some of the characters were enjoyable. Most of my book club who read this and met last night really appreciated Julia's friend Isabelle. Maybe it's because her challenges weren't illustrated in such a heavy-handed manner and just developed in a natural way. I found one of the ending scenes (where a number of characters Julia meets as the novel develops physically rally to her aid during a confrontation) almost straight out of a comic book. Pekkanen even tells us Julia found one of the characters almost cartoonishly evil (don't worry, we had figured that out ourselves, too).

I just wish the execution of this novel was worthy of the setup and plot. It reads quickly and I did enjoy it enough to want to find out what happened to Julia and Michael.
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