I find myself wondering if Kristin Harmel is going through a midlife crisis — her last two books, The Life Intended and The Sweetness of Forgetting, are quite sad. Or, you know, she’s just really good at making up stories and conveying strong emotions, which is what people in her occupation are supposed to do. That could also be what’s happening here.
Kate Waithman is an almost-40-year-old widow and music therapist in Manhattan. Her husband Patrick died 12 years ago in a car accident, and she has only recently begun to move on. One night Kate’s seemingly perfect boyfriend Dan surprises her with an engagement ring in front of all her friends and family, sending her into a serious tailspin (despite saying “yes”). She starts having disconcertingly realistic dreams about Patrick, but instead of dreams they feel more like glimpses of an alternate reality in which he is still alive and they have a teenage daughter named Hannah. (The daughter is important because Kate found out she could not have children right before Dan’s proposal.) These “dreams” make Kate start to question which reality she belongs in, causing her friends and family a great deal of concern — why doesn’t she want to start planning her fabulous wedding to this wonderful man?
In one of her first dreams, Kate realizes Hannah is hard of hearing and has cochlear implants. This inspires her to look into sign language classes, which brings charming sign language instructor Andrew into her life, and soon she enrolls in a weekly class and starts working with hard-of-hearing foster children through the organization for which Andrew works. Perfect Dan is none too pleased about this new situation, and after several tense months Kate decides to break it off with Dan for good. (Remember when I said he is only seemingly perfect? He is really an ass, especially about the not-having-kids thing, and that’s coming from someone who doesn’t know if she wants to have kids.) Kate spends a lot of time trying to figure out what the dreams are trying to “tell her”, and while she knows almost right away she should no longer be with Dan, she does not know if she’s supposed to be with Andrew. What the dreams were telling her all along, and what I figured out pretty much right off the bat, was ***SPOILER ALERT*** that Patrick had a child with another woman before he met Kate, and that child is Hannah. Hannah is real. Through Kate’s work with Andrew and the foster children, she is able to become a foster parent herself and take Hannah in as her adopted daughter.
I admit, a large part of my enjoyment of this novel is its taking place in the city (Puglia? I’ve been there! The 5 train to 59th? I take that sometimes!). This is one of the most predictable stories I’ve ever read, but that’s kind of Kristin Harmel’s style and I kind of don’t mind it at all. I immediately knew it would end happily, despite the sad parts throughout, and sometimes you just need to know you’re going to get a happy ending.