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The Perfect Comeback of Caroline Jacobs


The Perfect Comeback of Caroline Jacobs

In his fourth novel, THE PERFECT COMEBACK OF CAROLINE JACOBS, Matthew Dicks introduces our mousy heroine with her explosion at a PTO meeting in the cafeteria of Benjamin Banneker High School. Who pushed Caroline Jacobs just too, too far that evening? What could she achieve with directing the F bomb at the president? And who knew Caroline Jacobs even knew how to swear?

Caroline has a bit of bad luck when it happens that her daughter and the daughter of the president of the PTO share a biology lab. The following morning, Caroline’s daughter, Polly, punches the other girl in the nose after exchanging insults about their moms. Of course Caroline is called to the principal’s office, and the meeting ends poorly. She is unable to explain or defend herself or Polly. To restore her soul to some equanimity after these disasters, she chooses to almost kidnap the very smart, very real-world Polly and seek redress for an injury 25 years old…back to her own freshman year of high school.

"There will be accidents, lost friendships and sadness, but the consolations are rich: a savvy appreciation of Polly’s strength and Caroline’s own resiliency to forgive others and herself."

But first we meet and grow to like Caroline, a photographer seeking to capture the beauty of the unbeautiful. The following morning, she hides in bushes beside the Sears Portrait Studio and snaps away as a mother helps her child from their handicapped van into a wheelchair and slowly pushes her toward the entrance. They are slower than Caroline, who races ahead, darts into the shop, and begins developing the photographs. When it is the girl’s turn for her sitting, Caroline takes her and her mother to the dark room where multiple negatives reveal the pictures Caroline has already taken: the child’s face is lovely in the common positions of being helped, acknowledging her mother’s smile, and sharing their everyday intimacy. This gesture of understanding and acting on that knowledge, taking a chance on whether or not there would be smiles and encouragement between the mother and daughter, shows us another Caroline Jacobs.

As Caroline returns to her hometown, 900 miles away, she and Polly talk. The trip begins with long, long stretches of quiet, many questions that are disregarded, but Caroline eventually tells Polly about an important childhood friendship that ended in a high school cafeteria. If we know anything about high school and about 15-year-old girls, we know about the fragility and importance of being accepted. Caroline’s long friendship with her best friend Emily, “the Jack Kennedy” of the small Maine community, ended when she was excluded from their lunch table.

The trajectory of the next 25 years of Caroline’s life was shaped. Her father’s desertion earlier had begun the family’s financial downward spiral, and the moment when she is bumped out of the lunch group begins a spiral of insecurity and shyness. She has never forgiven Emily for her “indiscretion of youth” that day. She is seeking another chance for a perfect comeback.

Matthew Dicks’ novel is straightforward and seemingly simple as he takes us back to our own high school days and reminds us how lives happen. There will be accidents, lost friendships and sadness, but the consolations are rich: a savvy appreciation of Polly’s strength and Caroline’s own resiliency to forgive others and herself.

Reviewed by Jane Krebs on September 18, 2015

The Perfect Comeback of Caroline Jacobs
by Matthew Dicks

  • Publication Date: September 8, 2015
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Hardcover: 224 pages
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Press
  • ISBN-10: 1250006309
  • ISBN-13: 9781250006301