The Season of Second Chances, by Diane Meier.
I needed shelter and a place to work and grade papers. I don't cook, entertain or invite people into my home. I have simple requisites, but I need a house that can take care of me, not a house I would have to feed, burp, dress and send to Yale. Clearly, this was not the house for me. - from The Season of Second Chances, page 10 -
Joy Harkness is a college professor working at Columbia in New York City. She lives in her own little bubble of academia and builds walls around herself so as not to be put out by friendships and personal obligations. And she is miserable. So when she gets the chance to "run from New York and Columbia, like a hound at the drop of a hare," she takes it. She travels to the small town of Amherst, Massachusetts and goes to work for Bernadette Lowell, dean of graduate studies at Amherst College. Handpicked to be part of a team to develop a new curriculum, Joy at first sees the move as quick and easy. But, soon she finds the job of packing up her life and finding a new home to be a daunting affair.
If you have ever moved, you understand that people will stay in the most deplorable environments simply to avoid considering things that belonged to the people they no longer are. This is not just a job of hauling heavy belongings; this task confronts memories too painful to lift. - from The Season of Second Chances, page 15 -
Joy ends up buying a monstrous Victorian home that needs work at every turn. When the ceiling collapses from a water leak on the day she moves in, Joy realizes that she could use a little help. Enter Teddy Hennnessy, a self-made contractor and handyman with an eye for design. Teddy's laid back attitude and brilliant understanding of exactly what Joy's house needs to become a home draw Joy in -- and she soon discovers that beneath his gentle exterior is a man who is captive to his overbearing mother.
There are other wonderful characters in Diane Meier's funny and sensitive novel The Season of Second Chances. Joy is befriended, in spite of herself, by a group of women whom I adored. Josie, smart and in charge, is probably my favorite character. Married and with two children, she is a nonstop ball of energy with a heart of gold.
I could imagine legions of men, pious or superstitious, gullible or reasonable, believers and nonbelievers, lining up behind her and marching, like lemmings, right off a cliff. - from The Season of Second Chances, page 144 -
We sat there, her audience, drinking in the facts and accepting the opinions. Catsup and Dan, when he was around, and sometimes the girls and Teddy and me; we would snap the bottoms of asparagus, chop the herbs, pulverize anchovies or whip the egg whites into stiff peaks as she told her stories. We shoveled pasta into our mouths and mopped up sauces with crusty bread. We drank down her words with our wine and our lemonade, our iced teas and our Dark 'n' Stormies. We had no place we would rather be than caught in Josie's web, learning more about the intimate world around us through the details she'd collected, like a Victorian naturalist with a table of specimen spiders pinned to cards. There she had them, annotated and marked: all the working parts of the people who touched our lives. - from The Season of Second Chances, page 162 -
The Season of Second Chances is a novel about women's friendships, the ups and downs of life, and the idea that one is never too old to change. Joy begins as a forty-eight year old hardline feminist, fiercely guarded, and negative ... and evolves into a character I grew to love. She makes a lot of mistakes. She lacks insight into her own flaws. But, all these things make her very human, and someone who the reader wants to see succeed in her personal growth. When Joy discovers that friendship, although hard work at times, can be the balm to her sadness, the reader wants to congratulate her. And perhaps this is the heart of the story -- that we do not go through this life alone. Despite our fears, despite the protective urge to keep ourselves from hurt, what really opens our worlds is allowing other people in. In The Season of Second Chances, it is the women's friendships that sparkle.
"This is what women do," Bernadette said to me as I apologized to her yet again for my schedule changes and the limits on my time. "This is what women have done all through history." - from The Season of Second Chances, page 154 -
Meier writes with humor, something I always appreciate in a novel. By the end of the second chapter, I found myself laughing and sharing passages with my husband. Sardonic and insightful, Meier's prose resonates as real life. The characters in Meier's novel are lovingly wrought -- flaws and all. If you can't tell by now, I loved this book. I blew through it in just a couple of days, and was sad to say good-bye to the characters I had grown to adore.
Readers who love women's fiction and terrific characterization (not to mention humor), will enjoy The Season of Second Chances.
- Quality of Writing: Five stars
- Characters: Five stars
- Plot: Four stars
Overall Rating: Four and a half stars out of five.
Catch all of Wendy Robard's reviews in her fabulous blog, "Caribousmom".