A lot of times, when I’m scrolling through the books that NetGalley has chosen to send me, I end up passing by titles that, like this review’s book, have “:A Novel” as part of their title. Having too numerously been burned by capital N ‘Novels:’ books that tend to take themselves far more seriously than they deserve as they retread familiar ground in the least novel of ways, & spout trope after trope and leaving me growly and unsatisfied, has obviously imparted some bias. I am happy to report that Results May Vary – while it does indeed walk in some very familiar footsteps – was as unexpected as its title promises.
First off, there’s the expectedly unexpected news of a cheating spouse and his previously clueless wife – a minefield of abundant tropes just waiting to be set off, if ever there was one. But, from the very beginning, Caroline Hammond, heroine and aforementioned clueless wife, seems primed to buck tradition: Her immediate shock – initially to the point of illness – at the news felt like one of the truest portrayals of dumbfounded betrayal I have ever read. “An hour ago, when that sun was only a little higher in the sky, my life, and my future, were exactly what I had always understood them to be. And now, nothing would ever mean the same to me again,” she says, and the author had done such a good job of illustrating that difference that I willingly followed her into this new future with a much more open mind and an eagerness I had not expected only 20 pages prior.
From there, author Bethany Chase continues to defy convention, avoiding the pitfalls of long-time male-female friendships – I started a preemptive rant on it in my notes, even, and then let out a huge sigh of relief when … less a few stumbles, the author seems well able to grasp the idea that men and women can be friends without wanting to bang each other, and that longtime friends just hanging around waiting for availability is both disappointingly unoriginal (even kind of creepy) and also not a quick fix for all of life’s problems! (Perhaps she should share the good news of this gospel, because some other authors desperately need to hear it.) Best of all, Caroline is one of the most likeable, mature, adult women characters I have read in a long time – especially since she’s allowed to have moments of immaturity and irrationality, without being portrayed as if she’s lost all her marbles.
Actually, the author does well by ALL of her female characters, allowing them to be as vulnerable and multifaceted as her heroine. Both the older, mentor friend and the younger, sillier sister are allowed to be wise and stupid, to love her and get an understandable twinge of jealousy now and then, to make mistakes and still be valuable & supportive. The women in this story all read REAL to me, and I say that as an adult woman with lots of sisters and female friends, who often does not see the people I know, or even semi-accurate representations of them, in a lot of stories.
My favorite aspect of Caroline’s character, actually, is her ability to have adult conversations: with her adulterous husband, with her parents, with the person her husband had the affair with, with her best friend, and her younger sister, and her boss. Adult conversations like the kind I have to rehearse in my head when I need to discuss serious things with someone, filled with all the honesty and vulnerability and humor and sarcasm that being an adult seems to require. (Ugh). But she’s also allowed to screw up those conversations, and to be caught off guard when the person she’s having them with takes them somewhere she didn’t expect, or to just have to call a halt to them because if she doesn’t she might scream…I think that the author did an excellent job of managing to balance her need to move the story along, and keeping those conversations flowing in a way that seems honest & real, because for every conversation I have practiced out in my head, not a one of them ever went precisely where I had hoped and having Caroline have to deal with this character’s obstructionism or that one’s frustrating lack of personal insight, well: that’s life. That’s how those conversations should be written. Witness these totally adult, mature tidbits of conversation, just so you can get a glimpse of how well some of these discussions go:
“Adam, I don’t care that you’re sorry. I really don’t. It is the absolute minimum acceptable response to this situation, so I’m not going to give you a gold star for telling me you’re sorry for what you did. I need—I want to know why you did it”
Stop acting like I’m being cruel to you,” I said. “This is all happening because of a decision you made. Please … I am begging you to leave me alone. I can’t stand to have you near me right now.”
“You’re my girl. We’re going to be together forever. We belong to each other. Nothing can change that.” A fist of anger punched through my goodwill. “Adam. For this to work, you need to understand that what you did did change that. You say you belong to me, but you gave yourself to someone else. And it easily could have ended everything, forever. Your words are not aligning with the significance of what you did.”
Right? How jealous am I of her ability to be both angry and clear at the same time? Normally, if I get pissed off enough, I dissolve into incoherency and have to walk away. To be able to just be like “F. No. You are wrong,” right in that moment of absolute anger? That’s a grown-up skill I could definitely use some practice in.
Perhaps the best notation I made on my Kindle while I was reading was when I wrote “This is so well written that I honestly didn’t take conscious note of the fact that it was written in first person P.O.V. till waaay too long into the story, and that never happens.” Which is true – I tend to find first person stories distracting or not as easy to read (or get absorbed into reading) as other narrative choices, but I swear I didn’t even notice it here until I was a good chunk through the story.
And although that is cause enough for a ringing endorsement for me, there’s so much more to recommend this book. Besides ladies who are real and tough and wonderful and human, there’s the struggle for understanding – for understanding ourselves, understanding someone else’s actions, understanding what comes next, understanding just… life in all of its complexities that make this book worth reading. Because sometimes someone else’s struggles – real or fictional – can show us so much about our own. I’m not even dating, let alone married, so an adulterous spouse is so far off my radar that it would seem absurd that there would be so much for me to connect with in Caroline’s story, but it isn’t: When an author is good at showing how life works, no matter the particulars of the story, there’s always something for a reader to connect to.
Also, like I said I got the ARC through NetGalley, so although the graphic says “on sale now,” Amazon tells me it’s not out till 8-8-16, just FYI.