New Maine Times Book Review: Five Days

Posted Tuesday, October 15, 2013 in Culture

New Maine Times Book Review: Five Days
By Douglas Kennedy.
Atria Books, 2013.
309 pages, $26.99.
ISBN 978-1-4516-6633-5.
Reviewed by William D. Bushnell
Award-winning novelist Douglas Kennedy has always been fascinated by the seemingly spontaneous, unexpected events that can suddenly change people’s lives, “the random nature of things that can send the entire trajectory of our lives down an entirely different path.”
His latest novel, FIVE DAYS, brilliantly explores how just one unplanned encounter between two people can bring feelings of unrestrained joy and crushing heartbreak in a matter of five days.  As Kennedy explains, “this novel is about the nature of personal connection – and how, if it is absent from our lives, it becomes a longing that only serves to underscore all the sadness that haunts an unhappy marriage.”
This is not a happy story; rather, its stunning depth and painful clarity examines the fragile and too often hopeless nature of marriage, with disconnected husbands and wives deceiving themselves, pretending to be happy while hoping for a distant satisfaction they will never find.  As Kennedy shows, one of the greatest deceits in a marriage occurs when a husband and wife say they love each other and both know it isn’t true.
And while there is no joy here, Kennedy’s sensitive and vivid narrative is so gripping that the reader cannot help but feel the anger, angst, guilt, fear, uncertainty, and false hope of husbands and wives “lost together.”
Laura Warren is forty-one years old, married to Dan for twenty years, working as a radiologist at a small Maine hospital near Damariscotta.  She and Dan have a tenuously civil marriage, but they don’t really love each other anymore.  She sees things much more clearly than Dan – “Once contempt is finally articulated in a marriage, it never really stops.”  They both know their marriage is circling the drain, but neither has the courage nor the wits to do anything about it.  And detecting various cancers in the patients of her radiology unit doesn’t help improve her morale.
Richard Copeland is fifty-five years old, married, and is an insurance salesman from Bath.  He is a dull, gray man whose loveless marriage and uninspiring job have destroyed his desire to do what he really wants to do with his life.
Laura and Richard meet in a chance encounter at a Boston hotel – she is there to attend a medical conference, and he is there for sales calls.  The soft, innocent banter of two strangers waiting to check in leads to flirtation, and much later to confession, and so much more.  This is the random event so beloved by Kennedy.
Meeting for coffee, then drinks and dinner, Laura and Richard, two strangers just hours earlier, reveal things to each other that most folks would never talk about, unless they were desperately unhappy.  They both confess that they have spent years lying to themselves, falsifying their true feelings, longing for a loving happiness they will never have.  Both recognize that they have “settled” for their situations, they don’t like it, and are disappointed with the limitations they’ve put on themselves.
Unfortunately, these are the only things they have in common which makes them think they are kindred spirits, having found each other in a shallow but passionate, fairy tale –like connection they mistakenly think is true love.  This is emotionally explosive stuff, especially when they both become giddy with “happily ever after” romantic plans for a future together.  All in just five days.
However, the predictably devastating melt-down will reveal one character to be an artless coward, and the other to become resolute and suddenly decisive.  Still, nobody will be happy in this well-crafted but sad and depressing story.  And readers beware, a lot of people will see themselves in these pages.
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