Two of my favorite things in the world are craft beer and books. On the last Thursday of every month I pair a story I love with a pint to sip while reading it.
I didn’t intentionally choose to read Kristin Harmel’s THE LIFE INTENDED during the same month I turned 39, but I did. Have you ever had that experience where the exact right thing (a story, a song, a photograph) finds you at the exact right moment and you feel just a little more understood? That’s what this was like. Here’s why I loved the book:
- The novel opens ten years after Kate’s husband died in a car accident. She has recently turned forty, gotten engaged, and discovered that she is unable to have children (yes, all that). She’s having trouble feeling as excited as she thinks she should be about her engagement and can’t quite reconcile why. This confusion only grows when she begins to have very vivid dreams about her deceased husband, that seem to be leading her toward some new truths about past, the people she loves, herself, and the future. Harmel does a great job helping the reader experience Kate’s confusion and steers away from offering easy platitudes. There is no one right way to feel about children and your ability or inability to have them. There is no prescribed amount of time to get over the loss of someone you love. No rule about how long is too long to wait for the right partner, even if it’s the second time around. I’ve been reflecting a lot lately (because, birthdays) about how rarely is there something you “must” do. I think (hope?) that when these false “shoulds” we hold on to fall away we can find our actual truth. This book drove that point home for me.
- Kate is a music therapist and those vivid dreams she has, lead her to work with clients who are deaf. Harmel did a great job of infusing all the research she did about deafness and Deaf culture into the story, without it coming across overly academic. I’ll also add three cheers here for the inclusion of a caring, person-centered, effective social worker. Too often these characters are presented as, at best, an overworked, underpaid, grouchy archetype and at worst, a terrible child-removing villain. Bonus points for making this character male, in a profession dominated by women.
- The concept of using some sort of literary device to explore those big “what-ifs” in life is probably one of my favorite fictional constructs. Kate’s dreams show her not only what her life would have been had her husband lived, but also glimpses of how other characters would have fared in an alternate reality (her sister and the above mentioned social worker, for example). Some things are better, some are worse, some are neutral. Which leads me to another reason that this book was so well-timed for a particularly reflective time in my life. THE LIFE INTENDED was a great reminder that we are who we are today because off all the lovely, messy, heart-wrenching, and joyful moments in the past. The best thing we can do for ourselves is to stop questioning the past, accept the knowledge from it and move forward toward the next right thing.
- And finally, the peanut butter blueberry pancakes with honey Kate makes in the book. Because, yum.
I’m pairing THE LIFE INTENDED with the Oberon Ale from Bell’s Brewery. This is a go-to beer for me in the summer, and since I read a lot of this book while I was at the beach over Memorial Day weekend, a summer beer was a natural pick. However, what makes this the perfect pairing, is the fact that it is named after the character in Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream— clearly ideal for a book in which dreams are of utmost importance.
As so often happens, my “to be read” list is so long, the author already has a new book out by the time get to the one I had on my list. Kristin’s newest book, WHEN WE MEET AGAIN, was just published on June 7! Please be sure to check it out as well!