Thursday, February 21, 2019

Book Reviews Reloaded: Reunion

This article first appeared on East Niagara Post on May 5, 2015. It is repeated here as I work to put all my book reviews in one place. They will be posted on Thursdays or Fridays and only be altered from the original in that I will add publisher information and pages. Hopefully, by revisiting these reviews, other people might find a book they'd like to pick up for their own enjoyment.

Reunion Hannah Pittard
Grand Central Publishing
288 Pages

This week’s review is of one of my favorite types of books -- a character-driven novel that takes you directly into the lives of the people portrayed in the book and makes you feel like part of the story. In Reunion by Hannah Pittard, our protagonist, Kate Pulaski learns that her father has died just as she’s boarding a plane that will take her back to the husband who is divorcing her. And thus begins the wild ride that has our characters re-evaluating where they stand in life.

Kate is returning to Chicago to face her soon-to-be ex-husband after he has discovered that she has been unfaithful. However, upon landing, Peter puts her back on an airplane so she can fly to Atlanta to be with her family after the patriarch’s death. She’s reluctant to go. She wants to try to save her marriage, and she and her father didn’t exactly see eye to eye on many things.

After the death of his first wife, Stanley was saddled with 3 children, Elliott, Nell, and Kate. He remarries several times, eventually being married five times and having nine children total by the time of his death. The three originals are wary of the later half siblings and their mothers. Yet they are all destined to sit in the same room at Stanley’s funeral.

The last wife, Sasha, has a 6-year-old child, Mindy with Stan. Sasha is younger that Kate; a fact that drives Kate insane. Even into his sixties, her father was continuing to attract women and sire children. Meanwhile, Kate’s own infidelity torpedoed her marriage with Peter and her unwillingness to have a child of her own has driven her husband even farther away.

The three “original” siblings must reconcile what their father has left behind and how his last years were lived. There is some animosity between the siblings and the ex-wives, especially between Kate and just about everyone.

Stanley Pulaski kills himself months after Sasha and Mindy move away from his growing eccentricities. The condo that the sibling show up to is filled with boxes and piles of endless purchases. Somehow, as he got older, their father became a hoarder and his home is nearly completely full. After the first night at the condo in Atlanta, they accept an invitation to stay with Sasha at her home.

Kate Pulaski possibly might be the most unlikeable protagonist that I’ve read lately, and that’s a good thing. Not everything in life works out sweet and tidy like it does in movies. Sometimes, despite your best efforts, you still end up losing. Kate has this issue with the relationship with her siblings, half-siblings, husband and various stepmothers and she takes it out on everyone around her. At the same time, she expects her family to let her indiscretions slide or just be prepared to hand her what she needs. She is a selfish protagonist.

Kate slowly comes to realize that Mindy is an innocent child who could use some of her guidance. Of course, while she attempts to be on her best behavior with her youngest half-sibling, her efforts with her brother and sister completely leave the rails. When she discovers that her brother’s wife isn’t sure whether she wants to succumb to the charms of an attractive young man. Kate tells her she’d hate herself if she didn’t take the chance.

At this time the rest of the family learns about Kate’s infidelity. Elliott has stopped speaking to her. Sasha and Nell kind of look at her with pity. When the whole extended family gets together, all the ex-wives and children inevitably fight. One whole faction of the family eventually skips Stanley’s funeral. Everyone glares at Kate as it seems just as easy to blame the problem child.

By the end of the book, Nell has decided not to go back to San Francisco to what she determines is a boring life. There are insinuations made, especially by Kate, that there may be a burgeoning relationship growing between Nell and Sasha. Elliott is giving his wife, Ruth, some space she needs to get her life in order, hoping that she does not follow through with her guilty pleasure. Instead, he will accompany Kate back to Chicago to help her clean her stuff from the apartment and get her life into order.

What I liked best about this book was the imperfect lives of each of its characters. The unlikeability of  Kate was probably my favorite part. Not everyone we meet is the perfect person that we see in movies. Sometimes authors attempt to give their characters flaws that haunt them throughout the story, only to overcome them at the end. Pittard gives Kates flaws that continue to haunt her all the way through the plot. No matter how hard she tries to change her personality, Kate continues to make the same mistakes. A turn of the page in her case isn’t a miracle cure.

Hannah Pittard writes a narrative that explores the relationships between family members as they face life’s obstacles. Every good turn brings two bad ones in exchange, just like real life. At the end of the book, not all the knots are untied, and it leaves you wondering what is going to happen as all three characters’ lives are irrevocably changed from the beginning of the story.

My one complaint with this book was with Mindy, the youngest half-sibling of Kate. The author wavers back and forth on her age. Five. Six. Six and a half. She apparently is old mature enough to be able to move up a grade in school. Yet, in the books she seems quite immature even for her stated age(s). Living in a house with a 5-year old, I understand full well how a girl of that age acts. Mindy’s actions in the book just doesn’t ring as true to me as the adult characters do. It’s a small complaint, but noticeable enough to stand out.

This novel flowed easily. It was not a difficult read, and kept the reader engaged as we try to determine whether Kate will finally overcome her flaws. At the end, the reader continues to think about Elliott, Nell, and Kate after the last page is turned. We wonder how their lives are turning out as major changes confront them. Reunion by Hannah Pittard is a good book. So, pick up a good book and visit old and new friends in places we can only dream of.

Craig Bacon has flaws that sometimes require him to put his foot in his mouth.