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Skipping a Beat: A Novel

Skipping a Beat: A Novel

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Skipping a Beat: A Novel

4.5/5 (55 valoraciones)
466 página
6 horas
Feb 22, 2011


Julia and Michael meet in high school in their small, poverty-stricken West Virginia hometown. Both products of difficult childhoods--Julia’s father is a compulsive gambler and Michael’s mother abandoned his family when he was a young boy--they find a sense of safety and mutual understanding in each other. Shortly after graduation they flee West Virginia to start afresh.

Now thirty-somethings, they are living a rarified life in their multi-million-dollar, Washington D.C. home. From the outside it all looks perfect--Julia has become a highly sought-after party planner, while Michael has launched a wildly successful flavored water company that he sold for $70 million.

But one day Michael stands up at the head of the table in his company's boardroom--then silently crashes to the floor. More than four minutes later, a portable defibrillator manages to jump-start his heart. Yet what happened to Michael during those lost minutes forever changes him. Money is meaningless to him now - and he wants to give it all away to charity.

A prenuptial agreement that Julia insisted upon back when Michael's company was still struggling means she has no claim to his fortune, and now she must decide: should she walk away from the man she once adored, but who truthfully became a stranger to her long before his near-death experience--or should she give in to her husband's pleas for a second chance and a promise of a poorer but happier life

Feb 22, 2011

Sobre el autor

Sarah Pekkanen is the bestselling author of The Ever After, The Opposite of Me, Skipping a Beat, These Girls, The Best of Us, Catching Air, Things You Won’t Say, and The Perfect Neighbors. Her work has been published in People, The Washington Post, and USA TODAY, among other publications. She lives with her family in Chevy Chase, Maryland.

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Cotizaciones principales

  • My yearning juxtaposed with anger at him for not giving me more—and at myself for wanting it.

Vista previa del libro

Skipping a Beat - Sarah Pekkanen

Advance Praise for These Girls

Sarah Pekkanen’s latest celebrates the healing power of female friendship for three very different young women sharing a New York City apartment. At turns bittersweet, laugh-out-loud funny, and painfully real, you’ll wish you could move in with these girls.

—Jodi Picoult, New York Times bestselling author of Lone Wolf and Sing You Home

Praise for Skipping a Beat

In this compelling and satisfying read, Pekkanen offers relatable characters that move you and an ending that surprises and pleases. Highly recommended.

Library Journal, starred review

This portrait of a couple forced to take responsibility for the breakdown of their relationship is at once heartbreaking and familiar.


Intelligent and entertaining.

The Washington Post

"Original, engaging and soulful, Skipping a Beat explores the complexity of marriage and what it really means to share a life."

—Emily Giffin, New York Times bestselling author of Something Borrowed

Tender and funny in turn, Sarah Pekkanen has made modern marriage exciting in this imaginative and heartfelt tale of love and healing.

—Emma McLaughlin and Nicola Kraus, #1 bestselling authors of The Nanny Diaries

Praise for The Opposite of Me

Pekkanen’s wry voice and engaging characters—the bumbling parents are especially lovable—keep things fresh.

People (3.5 out of 4 stars)

Sweet, smart, and funny.


With her smart, soulful novel, author Pekkanen explores the place where self and sisterhood intersect.


Sharp-tongued . . . a spot-on portrayal of the existential dilemmas of young adulthood.

The Washington Post

Fresh and funny and satisfying. A terrific book about sisters that actually made me laugh out loud. I was completely drawn into Lindsey’s world and rooted for her from beginning to end.

—Jennifer Weiner, New York Times bestselling author of Best Friends Forever and In Her Shoes


For my wonderful parents,

John and Lynn Pekkanen

Part One


WHEN MY HUSBAND, MICHAEL, died for the first time, I was walking across a freshly waxed marble floor in three-inch Stuart Weitzman heels, balancing a tray of cupcakes in my shaking hands.

Shaking because I’d overdosed on sugar—someone had to heroically step up and taste-test the cupcakes, after all—and not because I was worried about slipping and dropping the tray, even though these weren’t your run-of-the-mill Betty Crockers. These were molten chocolate and cayenne-pepper masterpieces, and each one was topped with a name scripted in edible gold leaf.

Decadent cupcakes as place cards for the round tables encircling the ballroom—it was the kind of touch that kept me in brisk business as a party planner. Tonight, we’d raise half a million for the Washington, D.C., Opera Company. Maybe more, if the waiters kept topping off those wine and champagne glasses like I’d instructed them.


I carefully set down the tray, then spun around to see the fretful face of the assistant florist who’d called my name.

The caterer wants to lower our centerpieces, he wailed, agony practically oozing from his pores. I didn’t blame him. His boss, the head florist—a gruff little woman with more than a hint of a mustache—secretly scared me, too.

No one touches the flowers, I said, trying to sound as tough as Clint Eastwood would, should he ever become ensconced in a brawl over the proper length of calla lilies.

My cell phone rang and I reached for it, absently glancing at the caller ID. It was my husband, Michael. He’d texted me earlier to announce he was going on a business trip and would miss the birthday dinner my best friend was throwing for me later in the month. If Michael had a long-term mistress, it might be easier to compete, but his company gyrated and beckoned in his mind more enticingly than any strategically oiled Victoria’s Secret model. I’d long ago resigned myself to the fact that work had replaced me as Michael’s true love. I ignored the call and dropped the phone back into my pocket.

Later, of course, I’d realize it wasn’t Michael phoning but his personal assistant, Kate. By then, my husband had stood up from the head of the table in his company’s boardroom, opened his mouth to speak, and crashed to the carpeted floor. All in the same amount of time it took me to walk across a ballroom floor just a few miles away.

The assistant florist raced off and was instantly replaced by a white-haired, grandfatherly looking security guard from the Little Jewelry Box.

Miss? he said politely.

I silently thanked my oxygen facials and caramel highlights for his decision not to call me ma’am. I was about to turn thirty-five, which meant I wouldn’t be able to hide from the liver-spotted hands of ma’am-dom forever, but I’d valiantly dodge their bony grasp for as long as possible.

Where would you like these? the guard asked, indicating the dozen or so rectangular boxes he was carrying on a tray draped in black velvet. The boxes were wrapped in a shade of silver that exactly matched the gun nestled against his ample hip.

On the display table just inside the front door, please, I instructed him. People need to see them as soon as they walk in. People would bid tens of thousands of dollars to win a surprise bauble, if only to show everyone else that they could. The guard was probably a retired policeman, trying to earn money to supplement his pension, and I knew he’d been ordered to keep those boxes in his sight all night long.

Can I get you anything? Maybe some coffee? I offered.

Better not, he said with a wry smile. The poor guy probably wasn’t drinking anything because the jewelry store wouldn’t even let him take a bathroom break. I made a mental note to pack up a few dinners for him to bring home.

My BlackBerry vibrated just as I began placing the cupcakes around the head table and mentally debating the sticky problem of the video game guru who looked and acted like a thirteen-year-old overdue for his next dose of Ritalin. I’d sandwich him between a female U.S. senator and a co-owner of the Washington Blazes professional basketball team, I decided. They were both tall; they could talk over the techie’s head.

At that moment, a dozen executives were leaping up from their leather chairs to cluster around Michael’s limp body. They were all shouting at each other to call 911—this crowd was used to giving orders, not taking them—and demanding that someone perform CPR.

As I stood in the middle of the ballroom, smoothing out a crease on a white linen napkin and inhaling the sweet scent of lilies, the worst news I could possibly imagine was being delivered by a baby-faced representative from the D.C. Opera Company.

Melanie has a sore throat, he announced somberly.

I sank into a chair with a sigh and wiggled my tired feet out of my shoes. Perfect. Melanie was the star soprano who was scheduled to sing a selection from Orfeo ed Euridice tonight. If those overflowing wineglasses didn’t get checkbooks whipped out of pockets, Melanie’s soaring, lyrical voice definitely would. I desperately needed Melanie tonight.

Where is she? I demanded.

In a room at the Mayflower Hotel, the opera rep said.

Oh, crap! Who booked her a room?

Um … me, he said. Is that a prob—

Get her a suite, I interrupted. The biggest one they have.

Why? he asked, his snub nose wrinkling in confusion. How will that help her get better?

What was your name again? I asked. Patrick Riley.

Figures; put a four-leaf clover in his lapel and he could’ve been the poster boy for Welcome to Ireland!

And Patrick, how long have you been working for the opera company? I asked gently.

Three weeks, he admitted.

Just trust me on this. Melanie required drama the way the rest of us needed water. If I hydrated her with a big scene now, Melanie might miraculously rally and forgo a big scene tonight.

Send over a warm-mist humidifier, I continued as Patrick whipped out a notebook and scribbled away, diligent as a cub reporter chasing his big break. No, two! Get her lozenges, chamomile tea with honey, whatever you can think of. Buy out CVS. If Melanie wants a lymphatic massage, have the hotel concierge arrange it immediately. Here— I pulled out my BlackBerry and scrolled down to the name of my private doctor.

Call Dr. Rushman. If he can’t make it over there, have him send someone who can.

Dr. Rushman would make it, I was sure. He’d drop whatever he was doing if he knew I needed him. He was the personal physician for the Washington Blazes basketball team.

My husband, Michael, was another one of the team’s co-owners.

Got it, Patrick said. He glanced down at my feet, turned bright red, and scampered away. Must’ve been my toe cleavage; it tends to have that effect on men.

I finished placing the final cupcake before checking my messages. By the time I read the frantic e-mails from Kate, who was trying to find out if Michael had any recently diagnosed illnesses like epilepsy or diabetes that we’d been keeping secret, it was already over.

While Armani-clad executives clustered around my husband, Bob the mail-room guy took one look at the scene and sped down the hallway, white envelopes scattering like confetti behind him. He sprinted to the receptionist’s desk and found the portable defibrillator my husband’s company had purchased just six months earlier. Then he raced back, ripped open Michael’s shirt, put his ear to Michael’s chest to confirm that my husband’s heart had stopped beating, and applied the sticky patches to Michael’s chest. Analyzing …, said the machine’s electronic voice. Shock advisable.

The Italian opera Orfeo ed Euridice is a love story. In it, Euridice dies and her grieving husband travels to the Underworld to try to bring her back to life. Melanie the soprano was scheduled to sing the heartbreaking aria that comes as Euridice is suspended between the twin worlds of Death and Life.

Maybe it shouldn’t have surprised me that Euridice’s aria was playing in my head as Bob the mail-room guy bent over my husband’s body, shocking Michael’s heart until it finally began beating again. Because sometimes, it seems to me as if all of the big moments in my life can be traced back to the gorgeous, timeworn stories of opera.

Four minutes and eight seconds. That’s how long my husband, Michael Dunhill, was dead.

Four minutes and eight seconds. That’s how long it took for my husband to become a complete stranger to me.


MICHAEL AND I PROBABLY wouldn’t ever have fallen in love if it hadn’t been for a violent man who’d just been released from prison, a little girl in a wheelchair, and the fact that Michael was constantly—almost savagely—hungry.

As a teenager, Michael could wolf down a gallon of ice cream like a pre-dinner hors d’oeuvre, and his slim-cut Lee jeans still bagged around his waist. I know a lot of women in D.C. who’d trade their summer homes for a chance to revel in that spectacular metabolism.

I’d always known who Michael was, of course. In the small town in West Virginia where we both grew up, it was impossible for anyone to be a stranger. By the way, my husband and I aren’t first cousins, and we’ve both got full sets of teeth. I’ve heard all the West Virginia jokes by now, but I still toss back my head and laugh harder than anyone else at them. If I don’t, people think I’m grumpy and a hick, even if I’m draped from head to toe in Chanel and I’ve just had my eyebrows professionally shaped. Which I now do, every three weeks, even though I can’t believe I’m spending as much to bully a few hairs into submission as my mother used to for an entire year’s worth of perms and trims at Brenda’s Cut and Curl.

We were Mike and Julie back then—by now we’ve upgraded our names along with everything else about us—and although our paths crossed almost daily, we never really spoke until that spring afternoon. I was sixteen years old, and I was walking along the railroad tracks to my after-school job as a babysitter for sweet Becky Hendrickson, who’d been paralyzed from the waist down in a car accident a few years earlier. It was warm and sunny, the kind of afternoon that arrives like a surprise gift after winter’s dark shadows and icy toes. I walked quickly, swinging a plastic bag in my right hand, hoping the two half gallons of strawberry and chocolate wouldn’t melt before I reached Becky. That eleven-year-old kid liked ice cream more than anyone I’d ever met.

What’s the rush, sweetheart?

The man seemed to materialize from out of nowhere, like a ghost. One minute I was looking down at the parallel wooden tracks stretching in front of me; the next, I was staring at a pair of scuffed yellow work boots planted in my path. I raised my eyes to see the man’s face.

I was wrong; there was a stranger in my little town, after all.

He appeared to be in his early twenties. His long-sleeved shirt was hiked up to reveal strong-looking biceps, and his blond hair was cut so short I could see the white of his scalp shining through. Some girls might’ve found him good-looking, might’ve even mistaken the coldness in his face for strength, if they’d met him in the safety of a crowded party or bar.

School out already? the man asked, slinging his thumb through a belt loop on his jeans.

Um-hmm. I nodded, but I didn’t move. Instinctively, I knew that if I tried to go around him, he’d strike as quickly as a snake.

Seems a little early for school to get out, he said, winking. Sure you’re not cutting class?

Our voices were having one conversation; our eyes and bodies, entirely another. Adrenaline rushed my veins while I considered and discarded plans: Don’t run; he’ll catch you. Don’t scream; he’ll attack. Don’t fight; you can’t win. Something about the way his eyes appraised me told me he knew what I was thinking. And he was enjoying watching my escape options dwindle.

I’m not cutting, I said. My senses snapped into high gear. A few feet away, a small animal rustled through the bushes and tall grass that lined the tracks. The plastic bag in my hand slowly stopped swinging, like a pendulum winding down. I fought the urge to look around to see if anyone was coming; I couldn’t turn my back on this man for an instant.

See, back when I went to Wilson, I could’ve sworn we got out at two-thirty, the man said. He slid his thumb out of his belt loop and moved a step closer to me. It took everything I had not to match his movement with a step back.

It’s almost three now, I said, forcing the words out through my throat, which had gone tight and dry. That scar on the man’s right temple, combined with something about his voice—which was oddly high-pitched—suddenly revealed his identity. Jerry Knowles, the older brother of my classmate John, who had the same cartoon-character voice. Jerry had spent the last four years in state prison for stealing a car and fighting with the police officers who arrested him. It took a nightstick to the temple to finally subdue Jerry, who was getting the best of the two cops. At least that’s what the kids in school always said.

So you’re not skipping school, he said, his voice teasing. Another step closer. I didn’t think you looked like a bad girl.

I—I need to go to work, I said. My heart pounded so hard it felt like it would explode through the front of my chest.

Another slow, deliberate step.

He was so close now; I could see his scar was starfish-shaped and slightly raised, like he hadn’t gotten stitches to pull the broken skin together into a straight line.

They’re waiting for me, I whispered desperately. They’ll come looking for me.

That’s when he took one last step. He reached out a finger to stroke my cheek. I couldn’t move, couldn’t talk, couldn’t even breathe. His finger felt hot and rough against my skin. It moved lower, to trace my collarbone.

Funny, you don’t look like a high school girl either, he said as his finger dipped into my cleavage. Jerry was done toying with me. Now he’d reveal the real reason why he’d stopped me. My body’s adrenaline took charge, screaming that I had to escape, now. I twisted around to run, but Jerry caught me from behind before I’d gone five yards.

Someone’s in a hurry, he said and then laughed, crushing my upper arms between his big hands as his body rubbed up against mine. His breath felt hot against my cheek and smelled sour. My legs went limp with terror.

Let’s take a little walk, Jerry said. Somehow that high, squeaky voice was more frightening than a shout. He forced me off the path, into a cluster of bushes.

Get down, Jerry said, pushing me roughly to the ground. He leaned over me, in a push-up position, trapping me between his forearms. It was so quiet that Jerry’s ragged exhales exploded in my ears. I was vaguely aware of a rock bruising my shoulder blade, but the pain didn’t even register.

Lift up your shirt, Jerry ordered me.

Should I obey or defy him? Which would be worse?

Do what he says, instinct warned me. Don’t make him angry.

I hiked up my blouse, but only a few inches. My hand froze and I couldn’t lift it any higher. Why did it have to be so warm today? I wondered desperately. Why did I have to be wearing this thin shirt instead of a bulky sweater and coat?

Please, I whispered.

Please what? Jerry asked.

Please don’t, I begged.

Jerry leaned closer to me. His flat eyes bore into mine. Lift up your fucking shirt, he said, spraying flecks of spit on my checks with each f.

Then I heard something—the crunch of a twig under some-one’s shoe.

Get off her!

I registered a blur from the left as a guy leapt onto Jerry’s back and punched him in the head. Jerry released me and spun around, shaking the guy off.

Run, Julie!

It was Mike Dunhill, the skinny boy in my class whose hand always shot up before the teachers finished asking questions.

I jumped up and started to run, to get help, but a sickening sound made me turn around. Mike was already on the ground, and Jerry was kicking him. Jerry must’ve weighed twice as much as Mike, and he was in a fury. Mike was going to get hurt, bad, unless I did something now. I didn’t even remember that I was still holding the bag of ice cream until I reached into it and sent a half gallon of Breyers strawberry sailing toward Jerry’s head.

If the ice cream had been frozen, it probably wouldn’t have stopped Jerry. He was obviously a man who could take a hit. But that unseasonably warm day turned out to be a gift in more ways than one. The lid flew off, and the softened pink ice cream spattered across Jerry’s face and eyes. He stood there, temporarily blinded, his foot raised for another kick. That was all the opening Mike needed. He uncoiled and grabbed Jerry’s ankle, yanking him off-balance. As Jerry tumbled backward, Mike sprang up, as if he hadn’t been hurt at all, and shot out the side of his hand to clip Jerry in the throat, hard.

Run! Mike shouted again, and this time, I obeyed. Together, we sprinted another fifty yards down the track, cut left onto the dirt path leading to Becky’s neighborhood, and wove through the streets for a quarter mile, until we’d reached her little single-story brick house. I jabbed her doorbell over and over again, stealing glances behind me, certain Jerry would appear from out of nowhere again.

Hang on! Geez!

The door opened agonizingly slowly. Mike and I burst inside, breathing hard.

What’s wrong? Becky’s mother asked while I slammed the door shut and double-locked it.

It’s okay, Mike said. He bent over and put his hands on his knees as he sucked in great gulps of air. He didn’t follow us … I checked.

Who? Becky’s mother asked, looking back and forth from Mike to me. Are you guys playing a game?

Tears flooded my eyes as I remembered Jerry’s cold smile, and his lazy, insistent finger tracing a hot trail across my skin. Suddenly my stomach lurched and I almost gagged.

Then Mike saved me for a second time.

All the books I’ve read about self-defense, he said, grinning at me, and not one of them mentioned the dreaded ice-cream counterattack. Do you have to be a black belt for that?

We stared at each other for a second, then started laughing. Mike clutched his ribs and tears ran down my cheeks as we both leaned against the wall, unable to talk.

Guess you had to be there. Becky’s mother shrugged, walking away. That made us laugh even harder, howling and bending over and gasping for breath. And when we finally stopped laughing, I reached into the bag and pulled out the half-melted carton of chocolate ice cream that I’d somehow held on to the entire time.

Are you hungry? I asked Mike.

A slow grin spread across his face. Starving.

* * *

I pretended to be fine, and even though I was so jittery my skin felt electric, I must’ve done a pretty good job, because I convinced Becky’s mom it was okay for her to go to her afternoon shift at the pharmacy. The sheriff was on his way to take my statement, and Mike offered to stick around, in case he could answer any questions. But I sensed the real reason why Mike hadn’t left was that he knew I was terrified Jerry would somehow spring out from behind the shower curtain the moment I was alone.

I was looking out the window while Becky chattered on about the new Nancy Drew mystery she’d checked out of the library, and I didn’t see Mike take our ice-cream bowls to the kitchen. When he suddenly clattered them into the sink, I spun around, my heart nearly convulsing in panic.

Sorry, he said, even before he looked at my white face. I nodded and swallowed hard.

So here’s the thing. He leaned back against the kitchen counter and casually folded his arms. "All those mysteries Nancy stumbles across? She’s like, what, seventeen? Don’t you guys think it’s a little suspicious that she’s already solved a hundred crimes? Shouldn’t somebody be investigating Nancy?’"

I forced a smile, even though my lips felt cold and stiff. Are you accusing Nancy of exaggerating? Careful; she’s Becky’s hero, and she used to be mine, too.

Mike raised his hands so his palms were facing me. "I’m just saying someone seems to need a little more attention than the average seventeen-year-old. Sure, Daddy bought her a snappy little roadster, but apparently he doesn’t care that she’s dropped out of school."

I nudged him with my shoulder and managed a smile. A bit later, when Becky was drinking a glass of water and accidentally spilled a few drops onto the table, I watched as Mike reached over, casually wiped it up with his sleeve, and winked at her without missing a beat in his blistering imitation of our chemistry teacher, who seemed to hate not only teenagers but also chemistry and small towns (it probably wasn’t the best idea to give a lone white male with anger issues free access to combustible elements, but it’s not like we had a lot of teachers to pick and choose from).

Up until then, everything I knew about Mike came from the whispering I’d overheard. The mother just up and left, Brenda had told a customer through the bobby pins she held in one corner of her mouth while she fashioned an upsweep. Course, I might, too, if I was married to that S.O.B. But can you imagine leaving your childr—Then Brenda had caught sight of my wide eyes and quickly begun talking about the new yellow Lab puppy she’d just adopted.

It was the blessing and the curse of a small town; most people knew you, but everyone thought they knew all about you. Yet I hadn’t understood the first thing about Mike.

Later that day, as he walked me home from Becky’s, he acted nonchalant, but his eyes swept from side to side more vigilantly than any Secret Service agent’s. A few times he even spun around to look behind us. No one would ever sneak up on me with him around, I realized, and for what seemed to be the first time in a long, long while, I breathed deeply and felt my hands uncurl out of fists at my sides.

Becky was in a car accident, right? Mike asked as we turned the corner onto my street. It was dusk by now, but the day still held on to some of its earlier warmth, and a few yellow crocuses bloomed like little spots of hope in the yards we passed. I remember hearing about it.

Yeah, I said. Her mom was driving, and it was icy out, and they skidded into a tree. She wasn’t speeding or anything. It was just one of those awful things.

We reached my house, and Mike walked me up our concrete front steps. Most of the homes in our town were small but tidy, with neat yards and bright flower bed borders and trimmed hedges. Mine used to be, too, but now the gutters were still clogged with fall leaves and a shutter had come loose and was leaning there lopsidedly, like a party guest trying to hide the fact that he’d had a few too many martinis.

I paused on the top step. I hated to be rude, but I couldn’t risk inviting Mike inside. Not even after everything we’d been through together. Mike glanced at the front door, then at me, but he didn’t say anything. Maybe he already knew; most people did by now.

Is Becky going to walk again? Mike asked, casually sitting down and leaning back on his elbows as he stretched out his legs, like it was completely natural to carry on our conversation out here rather than inside.

She thinks she will, I said as I plopped down next to him. But I don’t know what the doctors say.

Jesus. Mike let out his breath in a long, whooshing sound, then winced and clutched his side, despite his claims that his ribs didn’t hurt. Being in a wheelchair is the worst thing I could imagine. I’d go crazy.

I guess you don’t know until it happens, I said. Becky handles it really well, especially for a kid.

No. I’d go crazy, Julie, he repeated. To not be able to move? To have to depend on other people for help?

He suddenly sprang up and shifted his weight from one foot to the other, like he was reassuring himself he could still control his body. Mike was in constant motion. I hadn’t noticed it at school, but that afternoon I saw: His leg jiggled, or his fingertips thrummed a beat on a table, or his hand wove endless paths through his curly, dark hair. That was probably how he stayed so skinny, despite the fact that he’d gobbled most of the ice cream and raided the refrigerator to make himself two turkey-and-cheese sandwiches at Becky’s.

Already, I was learning his mind was as hungry as his body. Mike told me he’d read half a dozen books about self-defense, not because he was worried about being attacked but because he read everything. That’s how he knew about the vulnerable spot in the middle of the throat: Hitting it hard enough with the side of a rigid hand would stun just about any assailant.

Mike tore through his homework, devoured books at the library, and gobbled up newspapers and biographies of business leaders and World Book encyclopedias. He even read the ingredient lists on the packages of everything he ate (alas, this little habit of his ruined my love affair with hot pink Hostess Sno Balls). He’d skipped third grade, and he’d completed all the high school math courses by the end of tenth grade.

Everything about Mike was quick. Weeks later, when I lay my head on his bare chest for the first time, I thought he was nervous because I could feel his heart beating so rapidly. But that was his normal heart rate; Mike was just wired differently than anyone I’d ever met.

Maybe I would’ve fallen in love with Mike anyways, because of the unexpected parts of himself that he’d revealed the day Jerry attacked me: his bravery, and the way he’d joked about how brilliant I’d been to hang on to the chocolate ice cream: I mean, if you’re going to use something as a weapon, for God’s sakes, use the strawberry! Strawberry’s kind of scrappy, but chocolate’s too mellow. It’s always getting stoned and sitting around listening to Led Zeppelin. You never want chocolate to have your back in a fight.

But there was something else—something he said that day on my front steps—that seemed to pierce me all the way to my core.

Mike frowned at the horizon, as if it wasn’t really me he was speaking to. "Someday I’m going to have enough money to do whatever I want. I’m going to have my own company, and my own house, too, not something the bank owns. I’m not going to end up in this crummy town like everyone else. Nothing’s going to stop me."

I stared at him, unable to speak. Mike had just put into words everything I desperately wanted, like he’d peered into my brain and scooped out my deepest, most secret wish. It wasn’t so much the money, though at that point I couldn’t even imagine owning a house. Funny, because now we have two—in D.C. and in Aspen, Colorado. But the security that came along with money … well, I ached for it. The sick, unsteady feeling I’d had ever since my dad had changed—the sense that quicksand was inching closer and closer to me, biding its time before it could suck me down and cover my head and suffocate me—disappeared as Mike spoke.

I looked at him, this scrawny, twitchy guy with crazy curls and jeans with a ragged hole in the knee, and a rush of certainty enveloped me like a warm blanket: With Mike, I’d always be safe, in every way possible.

See you in school tomorrow? he asked.

Yeah, I said. We’ve got that history test.

He nodded, then looked down at his feet. You always sit by the window, right?

Right, I said, surprised.

Except last week. He took a deep breath, like he was gathering himself, then lifted his blue, almond-shaped eyes to meet mine. Shelby Rowan took your seat first. You looked at her for a second, then you went to the back row. You were wearing a white sweater that day.

I stared at him, speechless. Mike had been watching me? He remembered what I wore? He hadn’t shown any fear when he attacked Jerry, but right now, he looked nervous. He was worried about my reaction, I realized with a jolt.

You sit in the front row, too, right? I finally said.

Mike shook his head. I’m right behind you, Julie. I always have been.

Like today, when I desperately needed him there.

I felt a hot rush of shame. Sorry.

Mike shrugged, but I saw hurt flash across his face. "If you don’t play football, no one notices you. God, I hate high school. Do you know how many days until we graduate? Four hundred and

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  • (5/5)
    such a great, grip your seat story. I really enjoyed it from start to finish. glad it ended with a finality so I wasn't left wondering what happens now. great read!
  • (5/5)
    Still reeling from the powerful ending to this beautiful book. I usually write longer reviews, but I need to go hug my family right now.
  • (2/5)
    Very sappy with unrealistic characters and plot line. Very boring. Would not recommend.
  • (5/5)
    After meeting the author and discussing the book at book club at One More Page bookstore, I can now say I love this author and this book even more. A story set near my home with two characters that throughout the book, I both loved and hated. Julia, a woman who grew up in a volatile household and was always trying to ensure that her future was better than her past. Michael, a hardworking guy who as time has passed spends more time at his office than at his home. Their communication was basically absent and their relationship was more like roommates than lovers.

    I adored this story and I will absolutely refrain from spoiling such a good ending - so this may be short and sweet. At this time in my life this was a perfect read as I have recently grown accustomed to the boy being away and I have learned to fill the time with more of the hobbies that I enjoy. When our journey ends which is soon, I will have to relearn how our lives mesh and we will be able to restablish our relationship. As Julia has done, I have learned to lean on a close friend for companionship during the week (and the pup of course) I understood Julia's struggle to try to understand how to be back in a relationship and learn to trust her feelings with him.

    I can't say more because I loved this book and I want everyone to go find it and read away. The writing was easy for a day at the pool or curled up indoors. It was definitely one where you sit down to read and then hours just easily pass by. A great reflection on the relationship we have and the value we must hold in building and nuturing each relationship from friends to husbands to family.
  • (5/5)
    One of the few books that made me cry HARD.
  • (3/5)
    While this book started somewhat slow for me, by the end, I was reading it everywhere my iPad went. The story revolves around a married couple who met in high school. They went from being Mike and Julie to Michael and Julia, and went from young people barely scraping by to multimillionaires. They also went from being each other's everything to sharing a household on occasion due to busy schedules and separate lives.

    Michael suffers a cardiac arrest, and dies "for the first time" at the beginning of the story while being in a board room meeting (a typical place for him as we quickly find out). He then goes on to do a complete about face and give away his entire company to charity, worth about $70 million.

    Julia, at this point in the story, is becoming a spoiled brat to no end. She drove me nuts, wondering if she could deal with a different way of life, and just being constantly drama ridden. My irritation was perhaps amplified, because at this time, Michael was being super sweet and loving - Julia just wouldn't listen.

    Some of my favorite characters were the secondary ones. Julia's friend Isabella is a kick and a half - super rich, but yet so approachable and down to earth. Noah, the young boy that is met when Julia goes out walking, however, is precious. He is curious and brilliant, and I loved the riddle that got me thinking in the middle of a book.

    Of course, this is a love story, and while it's not really EXACTLY what you want, it is a feel-good story that ends exactly the way things were meant to be.
  • (3/5)
    The jacket blurb says that this book has a unique premise, but the same day I was checking this one out from the library's new book shelf I looked at another, set in a small Southern town, with almost the same one: a wealthy man has a near-death experience, it changes the way he looks at life, and his wife has some trouble dealing with the changes. I picked this one and found it quite enjoyable. The story is told from the wife's point of view, with flashbacks and memories of how the two met, their early struggles, and how the marriage became a shell. The secondary characters are interesting and well-drawn, especially the protagonist's best friend Isabelle. Julia, the protagonist, is honest with herself and is not presented as the perfect woman. Recommended for the woman who wants a quick emotional read with some humor attached.
  • (3/5)
    The premise of this book intrigued me. Would it be that easy to give up so much material wealth for a marriage that wasn't that great in the first place? The author did a good job of setting up Julia's back-story so that we understand why financial security is even more important to her than most people. However, I still had a hard time feeling sorry for her because I found her to be so selfish. Her relationship with Michael baffled me; their marriage seemed to deteriorate so quickly after Michael's company took off and their lack of communication after that was astounding. If I were Julia, there were some things that I could not have kept my mouth shut about. I really liked Julia's friend Isabelle. I would love to see a spin-off book with her as the main character.I chose this book for my book club's June read based on the great reviews it got around the blogosphere when it was first published. After reading it, I feel like my book club friends and I may be cold-hearted snakes because none of us liked it that much. That said, we still had a good, long conversation - mostly about the issues surrounding marriage that the book brings up.I felt lukewarm about this book - I never cared enough about the characters, especially Julia, that I felt like crying over them. A lot of other reviewers were crying buckets at the end so maybe that says more about me than this book! I did enjoy parts of this book and clearly a lot of other people out there have enjoyed it wholeheartedly so you may want to check out some other reviews besides mine.
  • (4/5)
    I know this author has hordes of fans, but I avoided her books for a long time; I was afraid she just wrote very light “chick lit” stories. But since many of my favorite book blog reviewers just love her, I felt obliged to take a chance. As usual, my faith in their good taste was redeemed, as I was pleasantly surprised to find out this book was quite different from – and better than my expectations led me to believe.Julia is the 34-year old wife of Michael, who made $70 million with his flavored vitamin water start-up. Since then, they have been able to live in a $10 million home and indulge in a wealthy lifestyle. Julia has a good income from her own job too, as a successful party planner. On the surface all seems perfect, except that they never see each other anymore, and the couple, who met in West Virginia and became inseparable as poor kids with big dreams, are now in a sad Potemkin marriage living like virtual strangers.As the story begins, Michael has just collapsed on his boardroom floor with a heart attack, and is actually dead for four minutes and eight seconds before being revived with a defibrillator he presciently purchased for the workplace a few months earlier. When Michael awakens, he announces he is quitting his job, giving away all his money, and intends to concentrate on making amends to everyone he “screwed over” in his climb to the top, including his wife.We know that their marriage has become a sham, but Julia’s reaction to Michael’s almost-death and personality rebirth is still shocking. She is cold, unsupportive, and upset with Michael for reneging on his promise to give her a good life. She is more worried about the continuation of her wealthy lifestyle than Michael’s health or their future as a couple. The more lovingly he acts toward her, the more resentment she feels toward him.Michael asks her to give him three weeks before she makes a decision whether to leave him, and at the urging of her best friend Isabelle, she reluctantly agrees. Much of the time though, she spends angry, and as she looks back on the events in their relationship that have led to this moment, we come to understand why Julia reacts the way she does, and why Michael turned into the man he became.Discussion: The permutations of marriages are as much the focus of this book as the evolution of the characters over time. As Julia thinks back on a group of women with whom she once discussed marriage, she recalls how most of them were less than satisfied. In one instance, the woman said she had wanted someone different from the man in a previous bad relationship, so she married her husband for who he wasn’t rather than who he was. Another wondered: “What if things aren’t terrible, but they aren’t great either? What if you’re not happy, but not terribly unhappy either?” Then there is the problem of conflicting expectations, not only between the two partners, but even within one of them. What if you want two opposite things out of life, and your partner can naturally only provide one of them? Or what if one of you changes your priorities, but the other doesn’t, as in the case of Julia and Michael?Part of the cause of these non-optimal marriages is a lack of communications, or too many miscommunications. This, too, was a problem for Julia and Michael. As they reevaluate their lives together, they discover that much of what they believed about each other was never true, because they never would discuss it. Even by the end of the story, when so much has changed, they are still each keeping their thoughts largely to themselves.At first, I didn’t like Julia at all, but I couldn’t believe Pekkanen would leave her so unlikable. I think she did a good job of letting us gradually understand the fears that drove Julia to act the way she did. Although I didn’t see Julia as entirely redeemed by the end of the book, she was definitely, and successfully, working on moving in a better direction.Evaluation: I thought this was a very good book. I hated that Pekkanen made me examine my own life and my own choices, but that’s what good books do. [And you ask why I prefer fairy tales and dystopias!!!] There are also definitely a number of Kleenexes involved in reading this book.
  • (4/5)
    Brief Description: Julia and Michael grew up together in the same West Virginia town. Both faced childhoods that were difficult, but they saved each other and managed to escape their hardscrabble town and create a new life together in Washington, DC. Now in their thirties, they’ve achieved a level of success that Julia (whose constant worries about money growing up have followed her into adulthood) never imagined possible. Michael is the owner of a wildly successful company, while Julia owns her own party planning business. They live in a mansion, drive luxury cars and want for nothing. But Julia often finds herself alone as Michael is consumed by his work. His dedication to growing his company has devoured him, and their marriage has become a hollow shell. Then Michael has a heart attack and is declared clinically dead for several minutes. When he recovers, he is a changed man. Not only is he dead-set on giving away his massive fortune, he is also ready to focus on and love Julia again. But Julia is not quite ready to embrace these changes. She’s become a different person over the years and doesn’t feel what Michael feels. To her, he is destroying their lives and threatening her with her worst childhood fears. She thinks it unfair of Michael to ask so much of her when he gave her so little in the past. But Michael seems to be on a deadline of sorts, and she feels she owes him a bit of time to make his case.My Thoughts: Despite the glamourous trappings of wealth and the visions of the afterlife that Michael shares, this is really a novel about a marriage that evolved into something that neither party can fully understand and where it will go next. There has been betrayal, hurt and neglect on both sides, and when Michael abrubtly wants to find his way back to Julia, she’s not quite sure she wants him back. As they both struggle to make sense of what their marriage has become, Pekkanen explores what holds a marriage together and whether people can truly give up the love that brought them together in the first place. I thought Pekkanen created an interesting story and brought it to a close in a very satisfying and emotional way. However, I often found myself thinking that Julia was too focused on money, and I often found her unlikable. I think if Pekkanen had spent more time developing Julia’s hardscrabble childhood a bit more, it wouldn’t have read this way. Still, despite some flaws, Pekkanen creates an involving and emotional read.
  • (4/5)
    I really enjoyed this book. When I first started it, I thought it was going to be self absorbed. It wasn't. I liked how she dealt with the main characters struggle of trying to figure out whether she still loved her husband or if she was just staying with him for the money and the security that it bought. I also liked how the author wrote about life and death without getting sappy or preachy.
  • (4/5)
    The book opens with a near-death experience then begins to delves into the complex relationship that the husband and wife share and how their marriage began to fail as money was introduced into their life. They began to rediscover one another again once their fortune is taken out of the equation. I thought this would be a simple chick
  • (4/5)
    Skipping a Beat included a very dynamic main character whose ever shifting perspective kept me on my toes. Early on in the novel, you don’t particularly like Julia.And although “early” Julia wasn’t my favorite, Pekkanen does a great job of creating empathy for her even when you can’t understand her reasoning. As a reader, Julia’s motives are suspect. Why would you stay with someone just for money? How can a house make up for love?Questions like these kept racing through my head in the beginning of the novel, but Pekkanen answered them slowly. And as I got a better sense of Julia’s past, her thoughts, and her wishes I grew to like her and her husband immensely.Without giving away the ending, I will let you know that Skipping a Beat left me teary eyed. Pekkanen created characters that I grew to love and wove a plot that I could see coming but that challenged me anyway.
  • (4/5)
    Reviewer: StephanieSarah Pekkanen probes the intricacy and raw verity of affection and marriage in her new novel, as well as the power, and the greed, that envelopes the human conscience from within, ruining every last drop of happiness that one can maintain.The plot of Skipping a Beat is extremely original and intriguing. Julia's husband, Michael, is finally, after years of determination and self surrender, a part of the rich and respected social elite, thanks to his successful, multimillion-dollar health beverage company, DrinkUp. Julie and Mike can finally live the life they've always dreamed of from their poor slums of adolescence. Then one day, one seemingly perfect, normal day, Julia's life shatters when she discovers Michael entered cardiac arrest for four minutes and eight seconds. Her husband was dead for four minutes and eight seconds.His revival is nothing short of a miracle; after all, how many people get a second chance at life? Michael recognizes this a little too well, though -- once he's back in Julie's arms, he's intent on making his second time around focused on his love for his wife, not on his company, his life. I was a little disappointed at Julia's reaction at Michael's decision. You'd think a woman who nearly just lost her husband would be supportive of his afterlife crisis. You'd think the frustration she feels when learning her husband's company -- all the money he's worked hard for -- is going to charity, would dissipate after learning he was doing it all for her. But the largest, most stubborn conflict Julia experiences is ruling out whether or not she should leave Michael now that he no longer has his company. I found this incredibly selfish of Julia. Since she was raised by a gambling addict and never was able to live out the luxuries of life, I understand why Julia would be upset at first. But to drag it out during the entire length of the novel? That's a little shallow. Her outlook on Michael's abrupt, but still emotionally generous new purpose is: leave him and grab all the savings she can before they're all donated, or stay married and live a middle class life. Nearly dying gives Michael a new-found vision to his life; he apprehends that money isn't what matters. After you're gone, the one thing you'll regret most is not spending enough time with those you love, not what you could and couldn't purchase. Julia never seems to reach this discovery, which is when the reader realizes, maybe her marriage was doomed in the first place.The book flashes back to all of Julia's unhappy moments. The time when Michael missed their anniversary because he was on a business trip. The time when Michael promised to go with her to her favorite opera, but stood her up. The time when Julia found out about his affair, then went ahead to engage in one of her own. It is revealed that Julia and Michael's marriage isn't what it's hyped up to be, and that it was screwed up even before Michael's cardiac arrest.However, Michael is now a new person, one who doesn't care for the wealth or the power. And maybe, just maybe, this time, they can make it work out.The saddest part is, just when Julia deciphers this prominent message about true love and self renewal, she loses her chance to make it all better. Too deeply involved with her inner turmoils of concern over money, she loses the opportunity to start over again, in Skipping a Beat's unanticipated, provoking finish.I absolutely cannot believe how the book ended, and am so touched by Pekkanen's thoughtful, sempiternal story, that it has now ranked among my favorites.Along with an impactful, tragic, yet still hopeful story, Pekkanen writes with such grace and ease, that I couldn't put down the book once I started. Best of all, Julia's voice is fresh and witty; traits most characters fall flat in when attempting. I literally had laugh-out-loud moments reading Julia's observations, and really enjoy the way she portrays and compares everyday things in her life.Skipping a Beat's characters are highly flawed, its writing is straight from the heart, and its moral and plot are entirely path breaking. I lamented when I learned that wealth comes at the expense of love, and that material happiness can completely consume human felicity. A perfect heartrending tale of self-discovery and the truth about perfection, Skipping a Beat is a book that I surely won't forget, surely can't forget, and will forever be imbued by its poignant and satisfying message. Quote: "The first person I saw after I whipped through the hospital's revolving door made me want to spin right back around onto the sidewalk. Dale, the top lawyer for Michael's company, had planted himself in the middle of the lobby, next to a young couple holding a screeching newborn baby. I didn't blame the baby; Dale had that effect on me, too."
  • (4/5)
    Cute book! I liked this one much better than Opposite of Me. This book is about losing yourself and how we take the most important things in life for granted. I really liked how the book was written and how it slowly unfolded, how Julia took a long time to let her guard down, made it seem more real.Definite recommend.
  • (4/5)
    I am still mulling over the entirety of this novel, but Michael and Julia's story was thought provoking. Michael's brush with a heart attack and subsequent changes on his views of life and marriage are certainly warranted. I thought Pekkanen did a great job with Julia's character and made her likeable even with her reticence. Julia and Michael's success at life doesn't have to be the only thing that defines them, this is a very interesting journey.
  • (4/5)
    It can be difficult to acknowledge that you’re no longer the same person at 35 that you were at 18. (It can be difficult to acknowledge you’re 35, period.) And when you’re partnered with the same person at 35 that you were with at 18, acknowledging that neither of you are the same people any more can be downright threatening to life as you know it, but sometimes circumstances force it on you anyway. It happens to a lot of us, but not necessarily the way it happens to Julia Dunhill in Sarah Pekkanen’s second novel, Skipping a Beat.Julia and Michael have been together since they were Julie and Mike, small-town kids from West Virginia who shared a desire to make good in the world and the drive to work to make it happen. And they HAVE made it, with material success beyond anything they might have imagined back when they were younger...but now it feels like they share little besides their enormous home and possessions, and they’ve gotten used to living that way. It all changes on the day Michael comes back from a near-death experience - and he’s come back ready to change everything else.Pekkanen has written the novel in Julia’s first-person voice, and one thing that struck me is that she’s not afraid to make her narrator unsympathetic at times. Julia’s pondering over whether to stay with her husband after he’s declared his intention to give away everything he has could easily be viewed as materialistic and heartless, under the circumstances. But Julia is also pondering how she and Michael got to the place they’re in now, and that provides a context for the reader to understand that her concerns aren’t as strictly materialistic as they may seem. While she may not always come across as sympathetic - or maybe because of that - Julia did come across to me as emotionally honest and complicated, and I was impressed with Pekkanen’s ability to portray that.I was also impressed with the novel’s exploration of the complexities of marriage. Julia is made to confront the often-unspoken compromises and agreements couples sometimes make so that they won’t be forced to examine things too closely, the separation that can develop - and come to feel normal - between two too-busy people, and the challenges of communication, and I thought that these elements were effectively incorporated into the story. I found some of the situations in the novel a little contrived and wasn’t always convinced by the characters’ behavior in those situations, but I did feel that the characters’ emotional portrayal rang true and was quite convincing, and I really appreciate the author’s ability to bring that across to me.I still haven’t gotten around to reading Sarah Pekkanen’s first novel, The Opposite of Me, but I’m not at all sorry I didn’t wait to read her second. Skipping a Beat presents a rather unique situation with a degree of emotional honesty that makes it accessible and satisfying.
  • (5/5)
    Wow, what a book. Ms. Pekkanen really has an inside look on marriage and womanhood. When Michael has a death experience one day during a meeting, he changes completely. Without consulting his wife, Julia, he decides he will give away all he owns in order to make amends for things he has done. He also wants to concentrate fully on his wife Julia who he has neglected since starting his own business on the way to becoming a multi-millionaire. But it's not that simple. Julia has gotten use to their life and she resents him for pulling the money out from under her and she's holding other resentments as well.Honestly there were times I thought I would put the book down. Julia would seem a little childish but then Ms. Pekkanen would delve into the whys of her actions and thoughts and then I understood Julia so much more. I think every woman will find some of herself in Julia, whether it has to do with marriage or relationship with family members or just trying to get ahead. Julia turns out to be a remarkable character who grows through the book and learns to let go. I enjoyed watching her journey and really felt for her at times. Anyone who is married knows there are always rocky times and you both have to work to make it last. Ms. Pekkanen does a wonderful job of showing this yet showing that sometimes it's better not to give up.Michael was fascinating and it's not until later in the book that you really get into his motivations as well and you begin to understand the whys of what he is doing. I think the author did a magnificient job of layering the plot so we pulled away layer by layer to see how the characters would develop next. At times I wanted to bop both of them on the head, but there was a purpose to those times and it made the other times in the novel all the more special.I also enjoyed Julia's friend, Isabelle, she brought a nice sideline into the story and also some humor. I think all women want a friend like Isabelle, one who will laugh with you, cry with you and set you straight when you need to be. I enjoyed watching their friendship.The book moves quickly. It is like you open the book to the first page and the next thing you know you have read 100 pages and if those first 100 pages went fast then the last half of the book moves even faster. It kept me up past my bedtime because I just had to finish it to see what would happen.And that is all I am going to give you - just know it is a special book. If you enjoy stories by Emily Giffin and Elizabeth Berg then give Sarah Pekkanen a try. I know I am going to go back and read Opposite of Me now that I have read Skipping a Beat. These are the types of stories I really enjoy. Give me women characters who are struggling and not perfect, ones I can relate to and you have me hooked. Ms. Pekkanen has gained a new fan in me after reading Skipping a Beat.
  • (4/5)
    Julia and Michael have been living separate lives for a long time now. So when Michael has a heart attack and "dies" for over 4 minutes, Julia is jolted by the strength of her reaction. But that pales in comparison with her reaction to the Michael who now inhabits her husband's body. He is caring and concerned and determined to make their marriage strong and loving, like it once was. He seems to need to atone for so may things that he has done wrong, chief among them letting his wife drift away as he concentrated single-mindedly on the business that made him extremely, obscenely wealthy.As Michael works hard to woo Julia back, he also drops the bombshell that he is selling his company and giving away all of his money. He says that he has realized that the money has never made him happy but Julia struggles with his decision and debates whether she wants a relationship with her husband at all. Small pieces of their past together (they were high school sweethearts) start emerging in this tale of marriage, love, second chances, and forgiveness. And as Julia's former life comes out, the reader understands her reluctance to trust Michael and her terror at the thought of all of the money being given away.I had a few issues with the story, the largest being that Michael did not see that his unilateral decisions for their marriage were just that: unilateral. I know that the point was made that Julia and Michael's finances were intentionally kept separate but their life was not. The lifestyle that his money bought, the houses, the shopping, the high profile friends and acquaintances was all of a piece and his decision to give it all away without any input from Julia was still selfish even if he paid for it all. A marriage is a partnership and since that was what Michael was trying to hard to resurrect in their marriage, it was a little hard to swallow that he would go about it in such a singular way. The other biggish issue that I had was that the ending was a little overly foreshadowed. It was better than the only other alternative I can imagine given the story arc though so I can mostly forgive the predictability.Julia, as a character, is very sympathetic. She is completely real. The massive amounts of money that she has become accustomed to having has not changed who she fundamentally is inside. She's still the poor girl from WV who is unexpectedly uncomfortable in this new world. She is a good and loyal friend who cares deeply about the happiness and lives of the people around her. She is the kind of woman who can befriend a captivating young boy playing with his dog beside a river, finding a sweet companionship in his company. She is the woman who can put on the perfect benefit or event be it large or small and who thrives on doing so. She's also the woman who has not been able to forgive her father for his gambling addiction and the effect that had on her mother, nevermind the way in which it damaged her own ability to trust. As she faces the reality of the new Michael and his desire to make up to her all the neglect and disinterest that has been the hallmark of so much of their marriage, she debates her options, never knowing herself what she is finally going to choose to do until she is actually in the moment. The reader feels her pain and confusion, understands it, even as we also understand that she still loves her husband, the man he once was and the man he seems to be trying so hard to prove that he can be again.Ultimately the story is sweet and takes a close look at the reality of marriage, the way in which love is just the starting point to which so much other junk is added, sometimes to the point that that love is buried and obscured. Money and trust and time itself are all major issues in any marriage and Pekkanen has teased out a tale where they take top billing and she has done so with originality and sensitivity.