HANNAH’S LIST, Debbie Macomber’s latest novel, begins with pediatrician Michael Everett reaching a milestone in his life. Grief consumes him as he marks the one-year anniversary of his wife’s death. Although he has remained in close contact with Hannah’s brother and his best friend, Ritchie, Everett’s best confidant is still his dead wife, so he makes one-way conversation with her on a daily basis.
Today begins a new chapter when Ritchie confides that “Hannah asked me to give you this…She asked me to wait until she’d been gone a year.” He hands him a letter addressed simply to her husband. Staring in disbelief, Michael reads of her love for him, her confrontation with the fateful diagnosis, the losing fight with the disease, and her acceptance of the outcome. She wants him to be happy without her and hopes he will honor her final request. “What I want, what I need from you, is this, my dearest love. I want you to marry again,” she writes.
Hannah continues with a prepared list, in which she has picked three possible mates for her husband. The first is Winter Adams, Hannah’s close cousin, who owns a successful French café where her signature croissants draw customers like a magnet. With prodding from Ritchie, Michael stops at the café for coffee and a pastry and asks for Winter. But she has stepped out. At the end of a busy day with his patients, Michael reads his message slips, with one from Winter Adams.
Macomber slips into a second character’s viewpoint by entering the life of Macy Roth, a disorganized free spirit, artist, and sometime actress. Macy is the third of Hannah’s choices for her widowed husband. Hoping to land a part in a commercial, she’s frenetic when a stray dog wanders into her space. Owning several cats, she plans to foist the dog onto her neighbor, Harvey, an elderly widower, but his cantankerous nature finds no room for an animal. Macy worries about the old man, a stone’s throw from her fence. We read the character of Macy as flighty and insecure, but a delightful imp who possesses a heart of gold.
Meanwhile, Michael meets both Winter Adams and Leanne Lancaster, Hannah’s former oncology nurse. Both women are drawn to Michael, but each has romantic baggage of her own. Winter has loved her soulmate, another chef. Mutual disagreements have left their relationship in shambles and on the brink of a breakup. Leanne, on the other hand, has been divorced for nearly a year. Her ex-husband, an accountant at the hospital in charge of fundraising, had embezzled funds from a charitable event, was convicted and sent to jail. A mortified Leanne ended their marriage but remained in touch with his parents. Her path circles back to him when she discovers that his disgrace involves quite a different set of circumstances than she had been led to believe. Her heart still belongs to him, but she is rudely rejected.
Meanwhile, Macy seeks an audience with Michael because he’s a doctor. She wants him to examine Harvey, who she’s worried about. She also offers to paint a mural on the waiting room walls to brighten up Everett’s office. He likes her work and contracts the job with her. The mural is halfway finished when the the doctor and artist clash. He is both fascinated and befuddled by her crazy antics and unconventional attitudes. Hannah’s letter had stated that Macy would “make him laugh again.”
The story is predictable but well concocted. Hannah’s words wind through the plot lines. Michael remembers exact phrases she has noted about each of the three women she has slated for him to romance. His confidant becomes Ritchie, who enthusiastically encourages his reluctant entry into the dating world. One wonders if Ritchie was written as too compliant a character. Although he would be eager for Michael’s happiness, he might exhibit a slightly deeper loyalty to his dead sister.
HANNAH’S LIST reads like a “today” story, filled with possibilities one may encounter in complicated relationships. It is romantic but explores the deeper avenues of the grief psyche and the paths taken in the cycle a spouse may follow. Macomber does not bore with psychoanalysis but allows her characters to endure difficulties and overcome them to reach satisfaction. No one loses in HANNAH’S LIST.
Reviewed by Judy Gigstad on January 22, 2011