Book review: The Possibilities

POOR old George Clooney in The Descendants not only has his beloved wife in a coma but he also has to contend with the discovery that she had been having an affair. 

Kaui Hart Hemmings

Vintage, £8.99

The film was based on the novel by Kaui Hart Hemmings and a similar dynamic is replayed in her latest novel The Possibilities, a very satisfying read with a high emotional investment by Hemmings.

22-year-old Cully is killed in an avalanche while skiing and his mother, Sarah, narrates the story of her own drift through grief, not so much the immediate imaginable horrors of the loss but the stages where she tries to face life several weeks later. 

Her disconcerting discovery while going through his stuff is a bag of weed and about $3,000 from sideline drug dealing.

Here and elsewhere Hemmings seeks out entanglement. Rather than serving us grief straight up, no ice, no mixer, her inclination is to sprinkle flies in the ointment and let us deal with the bumps, potholes, and all the emotional ambivalence that follows.

For instance, she discovers the weed when she’s sorting out his old clothes in his bedroom, a task she undertakes with her loquacious friend Suzanne. 

Instead of having time to digest the matter privately she has to contend with Suzanne’s commentary and what begins as a warm, folksy scene of supportiveness at a time of loss unravels as her best friend becomes her greatest source of irritation.

Not only is Suzanne now bugging her but so is the thought of her daughter whose eulogy at Cully’s funeral now on reflection makes Sarah feel that the girl has trespassed on her (the mother’s) singular grief. 

At another time she even boasts to herself about the classiness of her own grief compared to what she disparages as the clunkier variety of someone else’s.

Bugged though she is, Sarah is sanguine and stoic about the many sources of her troubles. She reckons her friend Suzanne must have similar feelings. 

“I think she feels the same way about me, tallying up my quirks and trying her best to ignore them. Sometimes friends are so unfriendly to each other.”

Sarah’s dad has been living with her for a few years, playing pool with Cully when he was around and now, for all his undoubted wisdom and charisma, has lapsed into buying domestic junk on late night shopping channels. 

Sarah’s ex-boyfriend — Cully’s dad — is a handsome biker guy and he re-emerges as a figure in Sarah’s life. 

But the character who propels the story towards newer depths in our sense of how family might work is the young woman, Kit, who arrives with her own backstory.

The narrative is invigorated by becoming a kind of road movie in the final quarter. 

It doesn’t matter if it is never made into a film as it is such a satisfying piece of art as it is. 

But for the hell of it, it could fruitfully be cast as Kristen Stewart as the young woman with a secret, Mary Louise Parker as the grieving mother, Mark Ruffalo as biker man Billy, Connie Britton as the opinionated friend, and Martin Sheen as the shopaholic dad.

It could all be very Little Miss Sunshine. But even without this ever being made, Sarah’s narrative is a very enjoyable, often funny read despite the cloud of grief hanging over the story and her own oddly engaging awkwardness with herself and those around her.

As she is about to drive, she looks at herself in the rear view: “I still don’t know how to grieve correctly. I don’t think I’ll ever know how to express sorrow or to show people that beneath all this is someone kind. 

"I’m mistaking the good people for trolls — they are not who or what I have to conquer… I look like someone superior, inferior, repulsed, misled. I can’t take myself anywhere.”


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