Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Literally the Best Reviews: This Was Not the Plan

This Was Not the Plan - Cristina Alger
Touchstone Publishing
352 Pages

Sometimes I pick up a book at the library that really aren’t books that I would normally read. In these instances, I’m looking for something outside my normal reading in order to bring my readers a varied set of examples to try to find a book that they may want to read. Occasionally, I find an author that I like and a whole new set of books to fill in on my reading list. Jonathan Tropper was one of those authors. Now it looks like Cristina Alger is another one.

This Was Not the Plan is one of those character driven novels that I love so much. It is much less about the setting and more about the characters and their relationships with each other. This book is about how life will throw you a curveball just when you think you have everything under control and your life planned out exactly the way you want it. Nothing is ever that easy, and this book proves it in glowing prose.

Charlie Goldwyn thought he had it all figured out. He had the perfect job at a prestigious law firm, a beautiful wife, and a son to carry on his family name. Then, his wife dies in a plane crash and he’s suddenly a widower and a single dad. His odd, spinster sister helps out with his son Caleb as Charlie works long days and nights at the law firm. Those long hours pull him away from any semblance of a normal family life, although he is slightly troubled by his 5-year-old son’s tendency to dress in girls clothes and a peculiar obsession with natural disasters.

A mistake at a company holiday party completely destroys any hopes of keeping his life on the track he had planned. Suddenly, he finds himself out of work and faced with the spectre of his sister leaving him to fend for himself with Caleb. This is a situation that he’s never really found himself in, and he’s nearly incapable of making it work. Will the time off help him to reconnect with his son? While contemplating all this, his sister drops a bombshell of her impending nuptials, and their estranged father suddenly makes an appearance.

Can Charlie navigate all the obstacles in the path before him? Can he regain some control over his life? Will he be left behind in the wake, a piece of detritus wallowing in despair, or will he go with the flow and find a new path in life? Every opportunity for any and all these scenarios are there for the taking. What does he choose? Each decision gives him a glimpse at what parenthood, life, and love are really all about.

Cristina Alger captures the helplessness and hopelessness that comes with life-altering bombshells like the ones Charlie faced. The tone echoes with despair as Charlie struggles with his newfound unemployment and widowerhood. As events in his life start to look up, the feeling we get in the narrative also is that of hope. As readers, we feel the same hope and sadness that the main character feels.

Alger’s writing doesn’t let the reader catch his or her breath. Each decision brings a host of new challenges that we must overcome along with Charlie. She gives us a glimpse of many of our everyday problems and spins them in a humorous way that keeps up reading.

I just learned that Cristina Alger has a previously published novel, The Darlings. It is currently on my shelf ready to be read. If This Was Not the Plan is any indication, her debut novel is sure to be just as intriguing. I can’t wait to get started.

Next Week: The Man Without a Shadow -- Joyce Carol Oates

Craig Bacon doesn’t generally make plans. He flies by the seat of his pants and barely squeaks by sometimes. The “Next Week” at the end of his columns are about the extent of his planning.