The Season of Second Chances by Diane Meier tells the story of Joy Harkness and the new chapter she faces in her life. Leaving behind her relatively solitary existence in New York City as a professor at Columbia, Joy heads north and takes a position at a Massachusetts university. The novel chronicles Joy's transition to her new life and the self discovery that accompanies the transition.
Without acknowledging that she wanted or needed to, Joy leaves behind her NYC existence and is suddenly confronted with all kinds of complications to her previously straightforward life. Despite her best efforts to remain aloof, she is embraced by a group of friends and the rhythm of their reliance on each other. To many, this instant community would be welcome but to Joy it feels claustrophobic and she struggles to feel comfortable at weeknight dinners and daily lunches with her new friends. Joy reflects on the difference between her life in NY and her life in Amherst:
My time in New York hadn't exposed me to people who let you see their most intimate or ardent inner lives. I do remember thinking that life at Columbia was devoid of people of goodwill and benevolence. And I remember thinking that they must have had their kind and sweet human emotions removed before they took their jobs, or perhaps the pressures of their academic bred it out of them. Here in Amherst, in contrast, every day seemed to bring another heart onto another sleeve.
Along with new friends, romance also enters Joy's life. Actually, as opposed to the friends who she seems to feel have thrust themselves upon her, romance is welcomed in by Joy. She makes, in my opinion, some unwise choices in the romance department and these choices result in additional complications. Teddy, one of the men with which Joy becomes involved, is enmeshed with his overbearing mother and this limits his ability to fully be in a relationship with Joy. For all his emotional immaturity, Teddy also sees through Joy's aloof exterior to her fears and weaknesses and their relationship brings even more self revelation for Joy.
This book is excellent - it is smart and well written and the characters are complex and interesting. As much as Joy may not seem to always be the most likeable character, I think there is a lot readers can relate to in Joy's struggle to make changes to her life and the discomfort she feels with the changes. The book certainly gave me much to consider.
The genre of this novel is hard to pinpoint - fiction? women's fiction? After reading Diane Meier's blog post entitled "The Ghetto of Women's Lit", I wonder if the ambiguity really matters. In the post, Meier discusses a panel she sat on at the Empire State Book Festival with fellow "women's lit" authors Cathleen Schine, Elizabeth Noble and Sally Koslow. The panel (which I had also read about on Nomad Reader) discussed and debated the perils and benefits of classifying women's lit into "chick lit" and "beach read" as opposed to just fiction. Novels, like Season for Second Chances, that straddle these women's lit sub-categories, run the risk of disappointing those expecting something else from the novel based on the sub category in which they placed it based on relatively superficial criteria such as the cover art or the novels with which it is bundled by Amazon. My recommendation - Just read it!