Don't you wish you were Richard Paul Evans? He's boyishly handsome, a loving husband and father of five, and someone who can write about his first book --- a huge bestseller --- like this, "The material achievements of THE CHRISTMAS BOX never will convey its true success, the lives it has changed, the families brought closer together, the mothers and fathers who suddenly understand the pricelessness of their children's fleeting childhood." (And before you start thinking cynically, Evans used that book's mega-success to launch a foundation that subsidizes halfway homes for abused and neglected children.)
In his latest book, his eighth, Evans takes a different view of what it is like to be a successful, famous author. The protagonist of A PERFECT DAY, Robert Mason Harlan, has written a book of the same title based on a true, heartbreaking story from his wife's life. Harlan, once a successful radio advertising executive, had a series of bad breaks and spent eight years installing lawn sprinklers before his novel was published. His wife, daughter and agent stand behind him faithfully as his book becomes a sensation.
Success, however, finds Harlan making some bad choices. While his wife Allison had a loving family, Robert grew up the son of a rigid, frigid military officer. Between his unhappy childhood and career troubles, Robert has come to believe that he is entitled to more. First, it's a way too lengthy book tour; then a speaking event that Robert allows to take precedence over a family emergency; finally, he fires Camille, his caring and nurturing literary agent in order to sign with a big macher who promises movie deals and much more money. He flies home and whisks Allison off to a real estate appointment to see a six-bedroom mansion "complete with home theater." When she balks at leaving their modest home, he leaves her --- and Carson, their six-year-old daughter.
Robert's new whirl of celebrity suits him, and he's settling in to rounds of talk shows and restaurant lunches when a mysterious and curious man insists on sharing his table at Starbucks. The stranger, who calls himself Michael, knows nearly everything about Robert's life that Robert himself does --- but also knows a couple of things Robert doesn't. Bowled over by the information Michael gives him, Robert sets out doing what he has become accustomed to doing with information: to use it to his advantage.
Robert has become very good at this, and before long he is back in Salt Lake City, wooing his wife and daughter with gifts of goods and time. Allison is properly suspicious, Carson is properly thrilled, and Robert believes he's doing just the right thing.
Except he's not.
Revealing any more would be unfair, though I will share that Evans throws an interesting curve ball towards the end that serves to remind readers (maybe the author, too) not to take anything too seriously. I will also share that, as usual, Evans's writing is deft.
Evans knows how effective it can be to tug at heartstrings, and he does this with a higher purpose in mind. The charities he has founded have benefitted from his fiction writing as people look for a way to make a difference after reading his books. He empowers his readers to take a fresh look at their lives. And that is the point he again makes in A PERFECT DAY.
Reviewed by Bethanne Kelly Patrick on November 13, 2011