Maybe it’s because the July heat wave here on the East Coast completely fried my brain. I find that theory fitting. Particularly since the book I actually got into was set in Colorado, in the winter. Just think how lovely and cool that is. Ah, sweet sigh of relief. Temperatures well below freezing with hundreds of inches of snow sounds perfectly restorative when the mercury is hitting a hundred, the humidity is so bad you sweat sitting still, and the air conditioners still can’t get below eighty at six in the morning. Snow. How Marvelous. (Marvelous. Capital “M”. Yes, indeed.) Naturally I read this practically hugging my air conditioner with the floor fan on high. Thank heaven I wasn’t using pen and paper. The laptop would take a very high wind to blow off my lap.
Enough about that. I read–and thoroughly enjoyed–How I Came to Sparkle Again. I expected it to be a little bit similar to How Stella Got Her Groove Back or Waiting to Exhale. To some extent I was correct. The main character, Jill, goes through some pretty significant trauma at the outset of the novel. She goes back to her hometown because she is desperate for comfort and healing. Home, as Robert Frost put it, is the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in.
Back in the ski town of Sparkle, Colorado, are Jill’s best friends of many years: Lisa; her beloved Uncle Howard, a vaguely Yoda-like figure who rescued her from uncomfortable family circumstances; a ten-year-old girl named Cassie who just lost her mother; and a trio of endearingly bedraggled ski-bums who live in a bachelor pad known as “The Kennel.” (The Kennel is everything it brings to mind, including the four-legged friends who live there.)
The book is nicely layered, with the possible exception of Uncle Howard. He doesn’t quite evolve through the story. On the other hand, he is the wise old fella, something of a bodhisattva, so I didn’t feel there was much of an evolution needed to make his character complete. The other leading characters all evolved through various stages of grief and healing. Lisa heals the scars left in childhood by her parents’ difficult divorce. Cassie begins to heal from the loss of her mother with Jill’s help. In so doing, Cassie helps Jill to heal too. Cassie’s father and mother are both part of the story. Their healing and influence are also felt. Of course, the three bachelor bums in the Kennel begin to grow up too.
Another theme that runs throughout is the power of making the most of the here and now without placing judgments or conditions on it. The plot turns are not entirely predictable but aren’t outlandish either. (I read one a while back that wanted me to suspend all disbelief and cop to the idea that the lead character’s suicidal younger sister made a triumphant return from the brink of death after wrapping her car around a tree and sustaining a traumatic brain injury. Ummm. No. Can’t go there with you. Can’t.)
I’d venture to guess that most of us can relate to the unsettling feeling of not being able to see what life has in store next. Since this is a shared experience common to many if not most folks, it’s quite relatable. For the most part, the solutions to the various challenges to be met by each character didn’t feel too tidy to be believable. I’ve lived with enough small-town symbiosis to know that there are times when those who are looking out for you occasionally contribute a convenient little dose of serendipity. Maybe I’m gullible, but it’s fiction and I can work with a premise that at least has some realistic potential. The last bit of the ending was a little too pat, and harder for me to buy. Jill happens also to be a nurse, and the conclusion of her job search didn’t quite wash for me because we share a career. Whatever. Lawyers aren’t the same in real life as they are on “Ally McBeal” or “Law and Order”. “Scrubs”, “House” and “ER” aren’t totally credible either. That’s why it is, as I’ve said, fiction. I’ll quit belaboring that point now.
My final summation on this novel is that it had many more good points than not so good. It managed to get me attached to the characters enough that I cared about their how their stories would conclude. I think it should get a little extra love based on the fact that I was an admittedly hard sell and a few other candidates flunked out almost before they got started.