Review: Skipping a Beat by Sarah Pekkanen

Skipping a Beat: A Novel
Skipping a Beat by Sarah Pekkanen
Release Date: February 22nd, 2011
Publisher: Washington Square Press
Page Count: 323
Source: Paperback copy provided by SheKnows Book Club for review

What would you do if your husband suddenly wanted to rewrite all of the rules of your relationship? This is the question at the heart of Skipping a Beat, Pekkanen’s thought-provoking second book.

From the outside, Julia and Michael seem to have it all. Both products of difficult childhoods in rural West Virginia – where they were simply Julie and Mike – they become high school sweethearts and fall in love. Shortly after graduation, they flee their small town to start afresh. Now thirty-somethings, they are living a rarified life in their multi-million-dollar, Washington D.C. home. Julia is a highly sought-after party planner, while Michael has just sold his wildly successful flavored water company for $70 million.

But one day, Michael collapses in his office. Four minutes and eight seconds after his cardiac arrest, a portable defibrillator jump-starts his heart. But in those lost minutes he becomes a different man. Money is meaningless to him – and he wants to give it all away. Julia, who sees bits of her life reflected in scenes from the world’s great operas, is now facing with a choice she never anticipated. Should she should walk away from the man she once adored – but who truthfully became a stranger to her long before this pronouncement – or give in to her husband’s pleas for a second chance and a promise of a poorer but happier life?

As wry and engaging as her debut, but with quiet depth and new-found maturity, Skipping a Beat is an unforgettable portrait of a marriage whose glamorous surface belies the complications and betrayals beneath.

Review: Sarah Pekkanen probes the intricacy and raw verity of affection and marriage in her new novel, as well as the power, and the greed, that envelopes the human conscience from within, ruining every last drop of happiness that one can maintain.

The plot of Skipping a Beat is extremely original and intriguing. Julia’s husband, Michael, is finally, after years of determination and self surrender, a part of the rich and respected social elite, thanks to his successful, multimillion-dollar health beverage company, DrinkUp. Julie and Mike can finally live the life they’ve always dreamed of from their poor slums of adolescence. Then one day, one seemingly perfect, normal day, Julia’s life shatters when she discovers Michael entered cardiac arrest for four minutes and eight seconds. Her husband was dead for four minutes and eight seconds.

His revival is nothing short of a miracle; after all, how many people get a second chance at life? Michael recognizes this a little too well, though — once he’s back in Julie’s arms, he’s intent on making his second time around focused on his love for his wife, not on his company, his life.

I was a little disappointed at Julia’s reaction at Michael’s decision. You’d think a woman who nearly just lost her husband would be supportive of his afterlife crisis. You’d think the frustration she feels when learning her husband’s company — all the money he’s worked hard for — is going to charity, would dissipate after learning he was doing it all for her. But the largest, most stubborn conflict Julia experiences is ruling out whether or not she should leave Michael now that he no longer has his company. I found this incredibly selfish of Julia. Since she was raised by a gambling addict and never was able to live out the luxuries of life, I understand why Julia would be upset at first. But to drag it out during the entire length of the novel? That’s a little shallow. Her outlook on Michael’s abrupt, but still emotionally generous new purpose is: leave him and grab all the savings she can before they’re all donated, or stay married and live a middle class life. Nearly dying gives Michael a new-found vision to his life; he apprehends that money isn’t what matters. After you’re gone, the one thing you’ll regret most is not spending enough time with those you love, not what you could and couldn’t purchase. Julia never seems to reach this discovery, which is when the reader realizes, maybe her marriage was doomed in the first place.

The book flashes back to all of Julia’s unhappy moments. The time when Michael missed their anniversary because he was on a business trip. The time when Michael promised to go with her to her favorite opera, but stood her up. The time when Julia found out about his affair, then went ahead to engage in one of her own. It is revealed that Julia and Michael’s marriage isn’t what it’s hyped up to be, and that it was screwed up even before Michael’s cardiac arrest.

However, Michael is now a new person, one who doesn’t care for the wealth or the power. And maybe, just maybe, this time, they can make it work out.

The saddest part is, just when Julia deciphers this prominent message about true love and self renewal, she loses her chance to make it all better. Too deeply involved with her inner turmoils of concern over money, she loses the opportunity to start over again, in Skipping a Beat’s unanticipated, provoking finish.

I absolutely cannot believe how the book ended, and am so touched by Pekkanen’s thoughtful, sempiternal story, that it has now ranked among my favorites.

Along with an impactful, tragic, yet still hopeful story, Pekkanen writes with such grace and ease, that I couldn’t put down the book once I started. Best of all, Julia’s voice is fresh and witty; traits most characters fall flat in when attempting. I literally had laugh-out-loud moments reading Julia’s observations, and really enjoy the way she portrays and compares everyday things in her life.

Skipping a Beat’s characters are highly flawed, its writing is straight from the heart, and its moral and plot are entirely path breaking. I lamented when I learned that wealth comes at the expense of love, and that material happiness can completely consume human felicity. A perfect heartrending tale of self-discovery and the truth about perfection, Skipping a Beat is a book that I surely won’t forget, surely can’t forget, and will forever be imbued by its poignant and satisfying message.

Quote: “The first person I saw after I whipped through the hospital’s revolving door made me want to spin right back around onto the sidewalk. Dale, the top lawyer for Michael’s company, had planted himself in the middle of the lobby, next to a young couple holding a screeching newborn baby. I didn’t blame the baby; Dale had that effect on me, too.”

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