Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
- Review Date: 2014-01-13
- Reviewer: Staff
A grieving mother tries to make peace with her son’s death in this wry and heartwarming second novel from the author of The Descendants. Sarah St. John, a talk show host in the seasonal ski town of Breckenridge, Colo., is devastated when her 22-year-old son, Cully, is killed by an avalanche. She seeks solace in an unorthodox support group: her impolitic father, who lives with her; her best friend, Suzanne, whose own divorce occupies her attention; and Billy, Cully’s father, whose distance from Sarah’s life diminishes as they grieve for their son together. On the cusp of emotional recovery, Sarah and her family are thrown again when they meet a young woman whose story raises new questions about Cully’s life. With a deft and dry humor, Hemmings tackles the unique and unexpectedly humorous ways in which one is expected to mourn: a woman in town whose son died in a similar accident asks Sarah to join Parents Against Avalanche Disaster, “as if by not joining PAAD you were promoting avalanche disaster.” But, on closer inspection, the novel is a treatise on parenthood: Sarah struggles less with Cully’s death, and more with the fear that she never really knew him at all. “What’s the point of everything parents do,” she asks herself, “if the kids aren’t going to employ us?” Agent: David Forrer, Inkwell Management. (May)
On the road in the wake of grief
Writer Kaui Hart Hemmings had a lot to live up to with her second novel: Her best-selling, polished debut, The Descendants, was made into an Oscar-winning film starring George Clooney. With The Possibilities, she delivers on her early promise while making a striking departure setting-wise, moving from the tropical islands of her native Hawaii to the snowy mountains of Colorado.
After Sarah St. John’s 22-year-old son Cully dies in a skiing accident, she struggles to return to life. Her job as a co-host of a Breckenridge travel show (the kind of cheesy production that is shown on hotel TV channels) suddenly seems meaningless. Her widowed dad, who has been staying with her, seems to be making that arrangement permanent. And Cully’s dad Billy, whom Sarah never married, is back in the picture in a confusing way. Then a lovely but mysterious young woman named Kit shows up at Sarah’s house, with news that will send the family reeling.
Sarah hits the road with Billy, her dad, her best friend and Kit, heading to a memorial service at Cully’s college. This motley crew finds out a lot about themselves and each other, and they’re forced to make some difficult choices. And yet, Hemmings manages to make this road trip as hilarious as it is touching, punctuated with knockout dialogue.
Hemmings has a unique voice—both sensitive and humorous. In her hands, Sarah is all-too-human, a middle-aged woman who struggles to redefine herself after losing the child she raised mostly on her own. “I close my eyes and imagine his possibilities, the different hues of his self, what his face would look like in ten years, the kind of man he would be,” Sarah says. “He never had the chance to become himself. He never had the chance to be anyone else.”
While The Possibilities is a book ostensibly about death, it is at its core really about life—in all its messy, funny, hurtful, confusing and transcendent moments.
ALSO IN BOOKPAGE: Read our Q&A with Kaui Hart Hemmings about The Possibilities.