The adept and talented Melody Carlson (FINDING ALICE, CRYSTAL LIES, HOMEWARD) turns her pen to this contemporary romance about the multi-generational struggles of women that coalesce at a destination wedding in ON THIS DAY.
The point of view of each chapter rotates among several interesting women of varying ages and stages in life. Laura Fairbanks is a frumpy schoolteacher and brand new mom who married the groom's brother David three years ago and has found she doesn't fit into her in-laws' high-powered, wealthy world. Rife with insecurities, the elaborate wedding for David's brother Michael makes her question her own simple lifestyle choices. Elizabeth Anderson is the middle-aged aunt of the bride who is bitter toward her handsome husband Phil because she believes he is interested in a young, attractive divorcee. Women will identify with her frustrations over getting older while wishing she'd just stop complaining long enough to give her husband a chance to explain (which would ruin the tension, of course, so never mind).
The hard-drinking Suzette Burke, middle-aged wife of the groom's boss, is there to keep up appearances and cast a watchful eye on her husband Jim's romance with his secretary. Ingrid Campbell is the cute maid of honor who, caught up in Jennifer Simpson's wedding plans, has gotten engaged. Now, eying one of the handsome groomsmen, she questions her impulse. Readers will love bride Jennifer's grandmother, Margaret Simpson, whose own nearly 60-year-old marriage ended with her husband's death a year previous. Her sweetness, wisdom and vulnerability will help the other women as they sort through their various issues.
It takes a few chapters to get the hang of the novel and fix each character firmly in mind. That said, the joy of this book is Carlson's smooth switches back and forth from various distinctive points of view, and her ability to keep each character from turning into a caricature. Suzette has our sympathy because of her philandering husband, but we shake our head over her own grasping, selfish ways and embarrassing drunken episodes. Ingrid comes across as young and uncertain, but trying to figure out the right thing to do. We want Laura to stop whining, but any woman whose ever had a baby will reluctantly remember how it felt to be postpartum, complete with leaky breasts.
Although the wise sage Margaret's generosity and willingness to share her own imperfect life story changes the lives of some of the other women, she still has her own battle with hopelessness that isn't resolved until the very last pages. This makes for some nice plot tension. Of all the characters, perhaps Elizabeth deserves the least sympathy and the most impatience. (Just talk to your husband, Elizabeth! Puh-leeze!)
The choice of a wedding setting is perfect, since what woman doesn't re-evaluate her marriage or dating relationship when attending another woman's Big Event? As Margaret says, "I suppose weddings do that to us, make us remember when we were young brides." The faith touches are extraordinarily light and fit seamlessly into the text. Carlson also throws in a few nice twists that will catch the reader by surprise, and doesn't feel that she has to tie up the loose ends for every character. This is a fun, enjoyable read that should appeal to women of all ages.
Reviewed by Cindy Crosby on February 21, 2006