When I was working in publishing, I used to take all the free books offered to me like candy. Only now I’ve found my apartment cluttered in cheap-looking galleys. In an effort to purge my bad collector’s habit, I cracked open THE LIFE INTENDED by Kristin Harmel.
THE LIFE INTENDED is typical ‘chick-lit’ that will appeal to the book club set, the beach reader, and the escapist. Accurately described by the publicists as P.S. I Love You meets Sliding Doors, this serendipitous love story will not disappoint. While no literary masterpiece, it’s a quick read, and Harmel proves to be a solid storyteller with a lyrical voice that keeps the pages a-turnin’.
The story opens amidst the perfect life of Kate Waithman and her fairytale husband, who not only pushed her to pursue her dream of becoming a music therapist, but also tells her how much he loves her to a nauseating degree by invoking some John Green lingo and saying, “I knew before I met you,” which is answered by Kate’s call, “That you were meant to be mine,” (eye roll). The element of fate is immediately present as we learn of Patrick’s superstitious habit of tossing out silver dollars to the universe every time something good happens to him. The story gets interesting when Patrick leaves Kate with a silver dollar and a promise to tell her about imminent good fortune just before being killed in a tragic car accident.
Fast forward to present day. Kate has ‘settled’ for a wealthy, charming, and handsome man who proposes in front of all her friends just after she finds out she’s barren. Whether its the juxtaposition of these two events causing Kate to feel overwhelmingly disappointed and not excited about her future, or if she really doesn’t love Dan is a question that begins to weigh on her mind and heart. To add to her dilemma, Kate wakes the next morning next to her first husband in their old apartment as if he never died at all–she wakes in what she thinks is the life she was intended to have.
In this alternate life that she begins to shift in and out of for the remainder of the narrative, she is given a sort of omniscient knowledge of the aspects of her real life she couldn’t possibly know: she discovers her former mother-in-law has breast cancer, that Patrick has a deaf daughter, and that if it weren’t for the accident, she wouldn’t be working with children, among other things.
While this alternate universe serves to enhance her reality, in the moment it feels like a curse reminding her of all that she has lost. Her daughter in the dream inspires her to learn sign language, where she meets Andrew, a passionate fun-loving volunteer worker with hard-of-hearing kids, and she begins volunteering in the deaf community.
In the end, Kate ends up ending her engagement with Dan and with the help of her ‘dreams’ she unlocks the mystery of the last silver dollar Patrick gave her–the mystery child from her ‘dream’ is real and is a living link to Patrick. Through a round-a-bout turn of events, she is reunited with the abandoned daughter and finally feels the fulfillment she has been missing since Patrick’s death. To put the cherry on top of her newly built life, she finally admits her true feelings for Andrew, which are reciprocated, and the two begin a life together–the ultimate twist being that the life intended is the one she’s brought to in the end.
THE LIFE INTENDED has a carefully crafted plot and Harmel has definitely earned her space in the published world. She has an eye for detail when it comes to plot that dips beneath the surface. For instance, subconsciously, Kate’s life takes on the route of children’s music therapy because of the child in the backseat car that hit Patrick’s taxi in the drunk driving accident. She also has a keen eye for observation. Even her secondary characters have intriguing personalities that jump off the page. One in particular that will stay with me is Vivian:
… “Double score!” she cries, pumping her fist in the air. “Usually, I’m that complete slacker student who bounds in late and interrupts the teacher at work. You know, like last time. And the time before. But huzzah! An on-time arrival! Surely the world is spinning crookedly on its axis as we speak.”
Vivian is quite possibly my favorite character. Partly, because I know someone just like her, and it wouldn’t surprise me if Harmel did too. She also does quite a good job of covering up her own failures on the part of characterization. She creates two essentially identical characters–Patrick and Andrew–but diverts our attention by giving them different jobs and different character ticks that help us distinguish the two–bravo Harmel, bravo.
Editorially, however, the narrative is a little sloppy. There are multiple instances where Kate’s dialogue seems to be copy and pasted in two or three places. And then there’s the repetition of descriptors like Harmel couldn’t come up with anything more inventive or was too lazy to. This could have been fixed by simply cutting it down. Some examples of the overdone repetition are telling us how vivid the colors are in ‘dream world,’ Andrew’s incessant questioning ‘Are you okay, Kate?’ over, and over, and over again, and the whole ‘you’re acting weird again mom’ moments.
My last critique I have to mention, even though it has nothing to do with the book itself. Harmel paired herself with a singer to write a song that reflects the story of the book (insert cry-laughing emoji). It’s a cheesy ballad that wants to be a dark room Nora Jones song but ends up sounding like a Sunday School original. I urge you to listen for a little laugh.