Review: Before and Again

It isn’t hard to surmise a mother’s worst fear; I’m sure it’s the same the whole world over — losing a child. How does a person survive such a tragedy? With my own child nearly thirteen months old and, in truth, the center of my universe, I refuse to entertain the idea that he might someday leave this world before me. I’d imagine it’s akin to losing a limb, or one’s own sense of identity; children being so much a part of a mother’s makeup.

In Barbara Delinsky’s latest release, Before and Again (out via St. Martin’s Press, June 26), Delinsky touches on just that concept: motherhood after loss.

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Thirty-eight-year-old Maggie Reid once had everything: a successful career as a sculpture artist, a handsome and equally-successful husband, a curious and sweet daughter, and a life of luxury in her Boston community. She once had a different name, too — Mackenzie Cooper. But that was all before — before the accident that took her daughter’s life, before the Mackenzie Cooper law limiting the use of technological devices in vehicles, before the court case and divorce and fallout with her family.

It’s safe to say that Maggie Reid needed Devon, the idyllic Vermont town in which she has redrawn her life as a makeup artist at the well-known Spa and Inn. She’s changed her look (to ward off unwanted recognition after all that unsavory press time) and given up on her former clay sculptures, finding artistic release in the application of blush and liner. She’s remained single for the past five years, kept her head down as her years of probation wound down, and made a handful of “close” friends (only one of whom knows her true identity). Maggie allowed herself to make Devon her home, so it’s a complete shock to her system when one day, everything simply goes amuck.

When Maggie’s friend’s son, Chris, is charged with a felony crime and the feds show up in town, she finds herself in a predicament: how can she remain a good friend to Grace without violating the rules of her probation? Before Maggie gets the chance to resolve this problem, a guest from the past shows up, and her life — her Devon life — is instantly complicated threefold.

Before and Again, as with The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo and The Ones We Choose, is reaffirming my decision to sprinkle a bit more chick lit in with my regular reading. These titles go beyond romance and tackle more true-to-life issues that face women (and in some cases, men) in our modern world, and for that, I appreciated Before and Again. The book reaches beyond love and marriage and sexy scenes to draw in audiences with thought-provoking what ifs about loss and estrangement and self identity. These themes are what makes Delinsky’s newest release a gem.

Although the novel starts a bit slowly, things pick up about seventy pages in and move right along. At the onset, I did feel that the book could have benefited from some editing — there is a lot of detail, much of which I felt could have been trimmed significantly (and that’s saying something, coming from this Steinbeck-worshipper). I was quick to forgive Delinsky this indulgence, though, as the plot fleshed out and characters came to life.

My biggest complaint with the book: the convenient and contrived outcomes of many scenarios. (In truth, this may be why I am less apt to reach for women’s fiction, generally speaking. I think that many of the books that fall into this category tend to wrap up with warm fuzzies, and I’m just not generally one for convenient and/or happy endings.) More than once, I caught myself thinking that things did not fall into place that conveniently in real life, and that was a bit off-putting for me. Once I settled in and stopped trying to make the book a critical based-on-real-life publication, though, the storyline was enjoyable and I couldn’t put the book down.

Overall: 3.5-4 stars. I don’t live within a few hundred miles of a beach, but if I did, you’d better believe I’d have finished this on the sand with a fruity drink within reach.

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