Monday, August 2, 2010

Review: The Stuff that Never Happened

Summary: Annabelle McKay knows she shouldn’t have any complaints. She’s been in a stable marriage that’s lasted almost three decades and has provided her with two wonderful children, thousands of family dinners around a sturdy oak table, and a husband so devoted that he schedules lovemaking into his calendar every Wednesday morning. Other wives envy the fact that Grant is not the type of man who would ever cheat on her or leave her for a younger woman. The trouble is Annabelle isn’t sure she wants to be married to Grant anymore. The trouble is she’s still in love with someone else.

In the early tumultuous years of her marriage, Annabelle carried on a clandestine affair with the one person whose betrayal would hurt her husband the most. When it ended, she and Grant found their way back together and made a pact that they would never speak of that time again. But now years later, with her children grown and gone, and an ominous distance opening between them, she can’t help but remember those glorious, passionate days and wonder if she chose the right man.

Then, when called to New York City to help care for her pregnant daughter, Annabelle bumps into her old lover. Offered a second chance at an unforgettable love, she must decide between the man who possesses her heart and the husband who has stood squarely by her side. A journey into the what-ifs that haunt us all,

The Stuff That Never Happened is an intricate, heartfelt examination of modern marriage that brims with truths about the nature of romantic love. -- Shaye Areheart Books

A few months ago on Twitter, I caught wind of a soon-to-be-released book called THE STUFF THAT NEVER HAPPENED by Maddie Dawson. The publicist was raving about this novel, and (lucky for me) she graciously offered to send me a copy. I put it away in my beach bag because I just knew I wanted to save it for my vacation!

So I am happy to say that I did read THE STUFF THAN NEVER HAPPENED while soaking up some rays. I enjoyed it, but I don't think I can go so far as to say that I loved it. Keep in mind that my expectations were extremely high so that might have played a part in it. While I did think the writing and character development were very good, I admit that I had some issues with the main character Annabelle -- I just couldn't relate to her for much of the novel.

Having said that, I realize that I don't have to "love" a character to appreciate a book. And that's very true. I did enjoy this novel and I definitely appreciated so much of what the author set out to do. I'm just saying that Annabelle made rash decisions and then pitied herself for many years in her life. It's true that she did "suffer" the consequences of her decisions, but I found myself annoyed with her much of the time. I think if I had felt more of an affinity with Annabelle, the book might have reached that next level to me.

Enough about my issue with the book because I do think it's my issue and many readers will feel differently about Annabelle's character. THE STUFF THAT NEVER HAPPENED is, at its heart, Annabelle's story over a twenty-six year period; and I do think it is very well done. I was hooked on this novel -- it's very readable -- and I didn't want to put it down. There really were so many positive things about this novel. For starters, the writing was fantastic. This book is Maddie Dawson's first, and I think it's a wonderful start. I was extremely impressed with the quality of her prose and her character development; and I won't hesitate to read her future novels.

However, I think what I enjoyed the most about this novel might also be what "bothered" me the most -- Annabelle's character. I love that this book evoked strong feelings in me, even if they were pretty negative at times. I appreciated that Annabelle was a heavily flawed character and that she was so complex. I found her emotions to be very realistic and believable, and I thought Ms. Dawson did a great job of showing the maturation of Annabelle's character throughout the story. I also enjoyed that THE STUFF THAT NEVER HAPPENED delved so deeply into all sorts of relationships -- love and romance, parent/child, and even friendship.

I think THE STUFF THAT NEVER HAPPENED would make a marvelous book club pick. Any book that can evoke those kind of feelings in a reader always make for an interesting discussion. While I couldn't really relate to Annabelle, I have a feeling that many other women will see parts of themselves in her. I wasn't able to find a reader's guide at the present time, but I'm sure there will be one in the near future. Some of the themes you might want to discuss include love, romance, passion, relationships, commitments, regrets, parent/child relationships, forgiveness and redemption. I truly believe that a group could talk abut Annabelle and her behaviors for hours.

I definitely recommend THE STUFF THAT NEVER HAPPENED to women who enjoy literary fiction. If you've already read this book, I'm extremely curious to hear your opinion about Annabelle!

Thanks to the publisher for sending me a copy of this book.


bermudaonion said...

I think I may have enjoyed this one more than you did. I could relate to Annabelle even though she is totally different from me, because I've known people just like her. I just felt like both Annabelle and Grant were doing the best they could.

S. Krishna said...

Like Kathy, I enjoyed this one more than you did. I think Annabelle made some horrible mistakes, but I didn't dislike her for it. I thought she was incredibly complex and realistic. You fleshed out the reasons for your ambivalence very well though, great review!

Julie P. said...

bermudaonion and S. Krishna,

I hope my review didn't come across as too negative. I really did enjoy the book and I thought the author did a great job with the story. I agree that Annabelle was very complex and well-developed. All I was saying is that she didn't resonate with me.

rhapsodyinbooks said...

I've heard mixed things about this book so you are certainly not the only one who feels ambivalent!

Sandy Nawrot said...

Well, huh. Just hearing that you and a few others had issues (despite Kathy and Swapna's opinions, which I do value) is probably enough to keep me away from this book. I'm sure it is readable, but you know, you have to cull through the stacks somehow, and a few negatives is all it takes with me. Great review, very informative!

Jen (Devourer of Books) said...

I think I enjoyed this one more than you did too (my review is going up tomorrow). However, I agree that the extreme love for the book we heard months ago nearly ruined it for me. I really liked it, but it wasn't rave-worthy in my opinion.

Unknown said...

I just added this book to my TBR list. I've often read books with characters I don't quite like, but if it's well written, I get sucked in anyway. I'm looking forward to checking this one out.

Julie P. said...

Note: Maddie Dawson, the author of THE STUFF THAT NEVER HAPPENED, wasn't able to leave a comment so she emailed me with this one:

Dear Julie, Thank you so very much for your very thoughtful, sensitive review of "The Stuff That Never Happened." It's always so interesting to read how these characters resonate with other people, when for such a long time, they simply lived with me and were the voices in my own head. I would just like to say that I am nothing like Annabelle either, and at times I had the same difficulty with her that you described so well, but I find myself drawn to complex people who have flaws and problems and find themselves in situations that they normally wouldn't have picked for themselves. It's a challenge writing that way, going directly into what seems a contradiction: can we like a person who makes a mistake? I felt drawn to Annabelle because I felt she'd been damaged somehow by her upbringing, all that crazy 70s stuff with her mom and dad, and then the situation with her brother. I felt she rushed into a marriage with Grant before she was truly grown up enough to know even what she meant, and so the mistake she made felt like a selfish choice but at the same time a result of her own needs as well as Grant's coldness. I'm not trying to defend her really, or defend my choice in writing about her. But I was intrigued by her the whole time I was writing about her, and even when I was exasperated with her, she felt very real to me and I felt sympathy for her mistakes. You explained her well, and I can certainly understand people's ambivalence toward the things that she did. You read the book so carefully and with such sensitivity, and I'm really so grateful to you for taking the time and giving so much thought to this. Thank you! I've been so thrilled at my publisher's enthusiasm for this book, and it's funny to think that this is raising expectations so high that the book can't possibly meet them! Yikes!!
Kathy, thanks again for your comments! I agree with you that Grant and Annabelle were simply doing the best they could.
And S. Krishna, thanks for seeing the complexity and realism there!
Rhapsody in books (what a great name!): Ambivalence is definitely a fact of life when a book comes out.
Sandy, I know what you mean! There are SO MANY books to read! And you have to weed them out somehow. (I do the same thing!)
Jen, I can't wait to read your review. Thank you!
Alison,I hope you'll enjoy the complexity and ambivalence, and that you'll find things in Annabelle to like.
Julie, thanks again for recommending this book! I really treasure your review of it.

The Many Thoughts of a Reader said...

ooh this looks interesting!

Beth F said...

See -- hearing about the different opinions make me want to read the book and see what my own take will be.