SKIPPING A BEAT by Sarah Pekkanen

Skipping a Beat by Sarah Pekkanen has an interesting premise: Michael, a man in his 30s who has made millions of dollars after starting his own company, survives a heart attack and realizes that he has been focused on the wrong things in life. He decides to give away all of his vast estate, without conferring with or getting approval from his wife, Julie, who was his high school sweetheart growing up in modest circumstances in West Virginia. Julie, who has gotten used to living the good life in Washington, DC, has to decide whether to stay with Michael or try to fight part of his estate.

This could have been a pretty good story. What do you do when your spouse unilaterally changes your way of life? Does having a lot of money corrupt a marriage? Julie and Michael were basically estranged at the time of his heart attack. How does a couple find their way back to each other after years of distance and resentment?

Unfortunately, Skipping a Beat didn’t live up to its potential. Ultimately, it was an implausible story with a really weak ending. I had a hard time getting a good read on Julie, the narrator. While she said that she never felt comfortable in her moneyed life and hadn’t become the rich woman inside that her trappings would suggest, she was also devastated at the thought of losing it all. She was so passive in her marriage – clueless about Michael’s company, unassertive in her desires – that I had a hard time feeling sorry for her predicament. Michael’s 180 degree transformation after the heart attack – sudden and total – also seemed unrealistic to me. Everything was really simplified here – from Michael selling off his assets to the resolution of lawsuits.

The ending – WARNING, SPOILERS AHEAD – was cliched and way too Hollywood for me. It read like a screenplay for a feel-good tearjerker and I think it undermined the emotional potential of the book.

Skipping a Beat was set in DC, which I enjoyed. I was distracted, though, by a fair amount of name-dropping and outdated details. Lots of references to things like ‘The Tyra Banks Show’, ‘Dateline’, Issey Mikaye, and iPods. Julie and Michael were in their 30s but Pekkanen made them seem like they were in their 60s.

I mostly listened to Skipping a Beat on audio. The narrator, Madeleine Maby, was pretty good. She conveyed the earnest side of Julie, as well as her anger and confusion at what was going on around her. My issues with the book were separate from the narration, which was compelling.

Depressing-o-Meter: 5 out of 10. (Which means that this book didn’t really succeed for me, because I found it less poignant than it was likely supposed to be.)