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The Ever After by Sarah Pekkanen

BOTTOM LINE: I really liked it, especially how much it made me think.

Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Publication Date: 5 June 2018
Source: Publisher via NetGalley

Synopsis from the Publisher:

“Josie and Frank Moore are happy…at least Josie thinks they are. As parents of two young girls in the Chicago suburbs, their days can be both busy and monotonous, and sometimes Josie wonders how she became a harried fortysomething mother rather than the driven career woman she once was. But Frank is a phenomenal father, he’s handsome and charismatic, and he still looks at his wife like she’s the beautiful woman he married more than a decade ago. Josie isn’t just happy—she’s lucky.

Until one Saturday morning when Josie borrows her husband’s phone to make a quick call—and sees nine words that shatter her world.

Now Josie feels as if she is standing at the edge of a sharp precipice. As she looks back at pivotal moments in the relationship she believed would last forever, she is also plunging ahead, surprising everyone (especially herself) with how far she will go to uncover the extent of her husband’s devastating secret.

With her ‘conversational writing style and a knack for making readers care about her characters’ (The Washington Post) bestselling author Sarah Pekkanen paints a vivid, kaleidoscopic portrait of a marriage before and during a crisis—and of a woman who fears that the biggest secret of all may be the one she’s hiding from herself.”

My Thoughts: I have been open about the rather rocky relationship I have with Ms. Pekkanen’s novels. Most of them I find too trite for my personal enjoyment. However, when I do enjoy one of her novels, the experience tends to be rather profound. Such is the case with her latest stand-alone novel, The Ever After.

What Ms. Pekkanen captures quite well through Josie is the complexity of marriage. It is easy to declare that you would immediately leave your significant other should you ever find out that they had an affair. After all, no one wants to be made a fool, and finding out about an affair is a situation that is an embodiment of embarrassment. However, no one really knows how one would act in that situation until it happens. Josie provides just one example of a reaction, one I feel is fairly realistic – especially when children are in the picture.

Everything about Josie’s reaction upon finding that one text makes you think, which is what makes The Ever After so compelling in my mind. She follows her gut regarding further detective work and learning about the scope of the affair. She does not shut off her emotions but rather allows her rage and subsequent sorrow to flow. She has honest dialogues with her husband, with her friend, and with herself. At each step of the way, you are right alongside her, wondering if she is making the correct decision and pondering whether you would act in the same fashion were you in her shoes. This forced contemplation eliminates knee-jerk, flippant reactions to her actions and makes you an active participant in her decision-making.

It also reinforces the idea that marriage is a lot more complex than for which most people give it credit. As Josie shows, marriage is not something to lightly enter or dissolve. When you have children together, that bond becomes that much more difficult to undo. Even in her most emotional and irrational states, this is something Josie realizes, and her hesitation to make any lasting decisions without all of the details and complete understanding of the reasons behind the affair emphasizes this understanding.

The Ever After differs from Ms. Pekkanen’s other novels specifically because it is less like a frothy beach read and more like an exercise in role playing. Because of the close connection you have with Josie, her situation allows you to imagine and prepare for a similar situation occurring to you. Would you be as slow to make a decision regarding living arrangements? Would you want to know every detail? Do you care about the reasons for the affair? Would you want to contact the other person? All of these questions are situations Josie must face on her own, but in doing so, she provides a decent blueprint for next steps in these scenarios.

The thing Ms. Pekkanen is so careful to stress, however obliquely, is that there is no right or wrong answers when it comes to handling the knowledge of an affair by a partner. Without explicitly stating so in the text, you still know that Josie’s actions and reactions are just one form they could take. This is important if only because no two people are alike and neither are any two relationships. What works for Josie may not work for you, and that is okay. By providing a safe environment in which to contemplate such scenarios, Ms. Pekkanen provides her readers with plenty of food for thought, and that is always a harbinger of an excellent novel in my opinion. This is later confirmed by Josie’s own actions and the careful way she pieces back together her life. A serious novel about a serious topic, The Ever After is not just another affair novel but rather a weighty contemplation of marriage in general, the reasons why people stray, and the work required to keep any relationship a successful one.

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