Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Review: Skipping a Beat


Title by Author: Skipping a Beat by Sarah Pekkanen
Series (if applicable):  none
Publisher: Washington Square Press
Publication Date: February 2011
Page Count:  327
Source: gift
Blurb:
Julia and Michael meet in high school in their small, poverty-stricken West Virginia hometown. Both products of difficult childhoods -- Julia’s father is a compulsive gambler and Michael’s mother abandoned his family when he was a young boy – they find a sense of safety and mutual understanding in each other. Shortly after graduation they flee West Virginia to start afresh. Now thirty-somethings, they are living a rarified life in their multi-million-dollar,Washington D.C. home. From the outside it all looks perfect – Julia has become a highly sought-after party planner, while Michael has launched a wildly successful flavored water company that he sold for $70 million.
But one day Michael stands up at the head of the table in his company's boardroom -- then silently crashes to the floor. More than four minutes later, a portable defibrillator manages to jump-start his heart. Yet what happened to Michael during those lost minutes forever changes him. Money is meaningless to him now - and he wants to give it all away to charity. A prenuptial agreement that Julia insisted upon back when Michael's company was still struggling means she has no claim to his fortune, and now she must decide: should she walk away from the man she once adored, but who truthfully became a stranger to her long before his near-death experience - or should she give in to her husband's pleas for a second chance and a promise of a poorer but happier life?

Review:
Sarah Pekkanen is a story weaver.  The reader gets a glimpse of thread that captivates the eye, and watches as the story is woven before her.  Once in a while, Sarah Pekkanen allows the reader to see a small section of the tapestry as it is woven, but does not reveal the whole piece until the story is done.  Only then does the reader have a chance to stand back and see the tapestry, the story, as a whole and appreciate the beauty of it. 
 
It truly is amazing how she wove back story in throughout the main story to make points and give very good background information that was pertinent and relevant to the story of Julia and Michael.  When these two met while in high school, they never looked back or away from one another.  Michael achieved exactly what he set out to do, leave West Virginia, make an obscene amount of money, and never have to worry.  Julia believed in this scrawny, bookish kid who could never sit still.  They headed to Washington, D.C. in a beat-up car with garbage bags as luggage and never looked back… until Michael had a heart attack, and came back to life.

Sensing that his time was short when he returned, he realized that all of the money and power he had grabbed had made him lose the one thing that he held most dear; Julia.  While waiting for his body to be resuscitated, all he felt was a connection to everyone and love, and when Michael was revived, he wanted nothing more than to get rid of the thing that took him away from his wife; money.

Julia, on the other hand, was not so sure about the changes in her husband.  At first she felt that the man who came back was on intensive drugs that was altering his mood and personality.  She grew up as the gambler’s daughter, one who was pitied as her father gambled away his family’s entire livelihood and left them destitute.  She felt it was a trade off to have money but not have love.

After Michael was revived, he asked Julia to stay by his side, to give him three weeks before she made a choice as to whether or not she was going to leave him.  It was a difficult choice for her, as she was mad at Michael’s decision and did not understand her husband’s desperate need to give away absolutely everything he had earned; the houses, the cars, the money.  She felt it was a further destruction of their new-found life and security, and Julia had to come to terms with this man who was still her husband, but so altered from the man she knew who had given her this life that she currently led.

At first, I started calling this the ‘whinging’* story – oh Poor Julia, being forced to give up her new lifestyle with absolutely no say in the matter.  But the story was so well-woven together, that no part seemed out of place.  It constantly slips into the back story of both Julia and Michael, with either their personal stories or the story of their coupledom.   You alternately want to smack Julia for being so selfish and insensitive to the man she married and feeling a bit sad for her in not accepting what is happening in her life, and why it is happening.  I really would have liked to have seen more of Michael’s present day story, some of the story from his point of view, but Sarah Pekkanen did a good enough job revealing his reasons as the book progressed.  Slowly does Julia see the man she initially married come back to her, and slowly does she start to love him back. 

One thing that I loved about this book was how the author used different operas to tie in to Julia’s current thoughts, feelings, and what was happening to her.  I have personally never seen an opera, but it was such a unique plot device that I really enjoyed learning the little tidbits on the different composers, opera singers, as well as the operas.  Sarah Pekkanen also tied in mathematics and Fibonacci’s theorem with a young boy named Noah, who you instantly fall in love with.

It is a story that you must stick with to get the full effect.  It is a journey to the future through the past and it is so artfully put together that the reader is left breathless at times.  There are many things that can be taken away from this book, and I can sense already that this story will stick with me for quite some time.
 
*whinging – British slang for complaining or whining

Favorite Quotes: (contains some spoilers)

Sometimes following the path that looked the safest was what led to the most hurt.

How can I be eighty years old when I’m still a girl?

She was stuck in that fuzzy middle place – not happy, but not terribly unhappy either – and she was desperate for an answer.  Maybe when she was alone, she mentally listed the good things in her marriage, then counted up the bad parts.  She probably listened to her friends complain about their husbands and thought, Well, at least he doesn’t do that.  Her husband’s fidelity or disinterest in golf might buy her a few days or weeks of unexpected gratitude.  Maybe she even had moments of grace mixed in with the dreary days…

I loved him despite the injuries we’d inflicted on one another, because of the bad times as well as the good ones.  I loved him even though he wanted to rip me away from the extraordinary life he’d given me, and while part of me longed to cling to it, another part was suddenly excited about what lay ahead of us, about what else we might build together starting from scratch.  Our love was richer and bumpier and more complex than it had ever been before.

“I understood so much in those minutes,” he said.  “I felt love and I felt loved.  I was connected to everyone who has ever lived or died.  And we are connected, Julia, because even though we speak different languages and live in different places, we all experience the same joy and grief and anger and embarrassment and love.  Emotion is the only thing we all share, and it’s the only thing we take with us when we go.”

Rating: 5 Stars
Tag:  contemporary, romance, rags-to-riches, near-death experience, forgiveness, discovery

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