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Kaui Hart Hemmings
The Possibilities
Simon & Schuster
US Hardcover First Edition
ISBN 978-1-476-72579-6
Publication Date: 05-13-2014
280 Pages; $25.00
Date Reviewed: 05-13-2014
Reviewed by: Rick Kleffel © 2014

General Fiction

It's easy to discount the import of voice when you read a great book, at least, until you meet someone like Sarah St. John, who tells you the story in Kaui Hart Hemmings' new novel, 'The Possibilities.' And "meet" is exactly the right word to describe it, because, right there, on the printed page, Sarah comes to life, she comes into your life and does not leave even after you've finished the novel. Her tart, acerbic, smart perceptions will invade your world and tweak your vision.

Sarah is certainly not at her best when we first meet her. Her son, Cully, aged twenty-two, died three previously, in an avalanche near the ski resort town of Breckenridge, Colorado, where they both lived. Sarah's not handling it well. She's a very local woman, who had, until the accident that killed her son, been working as a sort of infomercial host for a local cable show piped into hotels. Trying to get back in the saddle, she can't help but seem distracted, uninterested and generally dismissive of the forced cheer she's supposed to exude. Her best friend's daughter in planning a tribute of some sort, and Sarah feels a looming dread as the date approaches.

It's tempting to say that 'The Possibilities' deals with death and grief and all the outfalls of both, but that shortchanges the book by a long shot. Instead, it imagines death as a frame for life, and then examines life, Sarah's very specific life, within that frame and tries to make sense of it. Sarah's voice gets us straight to the heart of any matter she cares to regard, and does so in a manner that is cuttingly funny and wise. You can't go more than a paragraph or two without either laughing at or stopping to ponder just how right-on Sarah's words are.

It helps that Hemmings has created a cast of folks strong enough to stand up to Sarah's brainy, dark sense of humor. Susanne, her best friend, is ever there for her and kind of awful in a cheerful, self-serving way. Her father Lyle, who has moved in with her and appears to be there to stay, can match her wit for wit, but he's a bit more whimsical than she. He longs to be back in the running-the-resort game and does not suffer fools gladly. Billy, Cully's father, never married to Sarah, proves to be something of a surprise. And Cully has some surprises of his own, even this long after having shuffled this mortal coil.

'The Possibilities' is a fascinating novel, as it reads something like a thriller, though it treads none of the usual territory of this genre. Hemmings has managed to inject real and urgent tension into Sarah's very real life. As we turn the pages with increasing joy and increasing fervor, we simply want to know, who exactly are these people? It is to Hemmings' credit that we trust Sarah will be able to answer that question in a smart, hilarious, generous, and very human manner.

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