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Second chances abound in this book worth waiting for
- Kaya McLaren
Penguin - 322 pages - $14
I am writing this review on April Fool's Day and I'm feeling like a fool, all right. I've just discovered that the book I'm reviewing won't be coming out until the end of the month. This goof-up is pretty typical
of my week - I've been contending with one sick child, two sick cats and the sloppy snow bashing my daffodils down ...
But the aforementioned book made me feel better in the midst of all this, so let me tell you the title: "On the Divinity of Second Chances." Please jot it down and stick it on your fridge with a magnet and do look for it when it finally comes out on April 28.
This is a quirky, character-driven book that doesn't shirk away from the big questions of life but instead wrangles them into a fictional cosmos that seems a little more forgiving than our own.
Author Kaya McLaren lives on the east side of Snoqualmie Pass now, but she grew up on the Enumclaw Plateau where, amid the rain showers and mud puddles and blackberries, she says, "Enumclaw made me a person who looks for ways the world is abundant."
And that is reflected in her writing. "On the Divinity of Second Chances" begins with a fractured family - retirement-age parents on the verge of divorce, a pregnant daughter who has just split up with her boyfriend, another daughter who believes she has had many previous lives (and we meet her spirit guide to prove it), a son who has lived in self-imposed estrangement from his family for half of his lifetime (most of it high up in trees), and a pistol-packing matriarch.
We are privy to the contemplations of each of these characters as they grapple with the fears and disappointments in their lives. We see them rely on different means of solace (despite the title, there is no heavy-handed proselytizing for any one spiritual approach) and find optimism and new purpose in very different ways.
McLaren is untidy by design. Through her patchwork approach of character studies, we begin to see how these people still have important things in common. And gradually, the characters themselves begin to see that, too. Second chances do present themselves in various forms and, tempered by earlier mistakes, these characters find the strength to try again.
Along the way, McLaren shares the particular delights of mud, sunflowers, root beer floats, straw bale and cob construction, bagpipes, tap dancing, cribbage and a good back rub.
Even more than the salutary plot, these reminders of the magic of everyday life make "On the Divinity of Second Chances" a pleasure to read.
This hopeful book acknowledges the faults in people but looks for the love and fun and forgiveness in them, too. It's a cozy little book to curl up with and, as a paperback original, it's affordable.
I found it to be an upbeat antidote to the querulous times in which we live. Why not treat yourself?
The Bookmonger is Barbara Lloyd McMichael, who writes this column focusing on the books, authors and publishers of the Pacific Northwest.