A Slight Change of Plan
By Dee Ernst
November 19, 2013
Kate Freemont Everett is fifty-five years old and in the process of crafting a new stage in her life. Her husband, a workaholic ob-gyn, died of a heart attack eight years ago. Kate had reached the conclusion that their marriage was short of satisfactory before his death, and while she grieved his premature passing, she settled into widowhood without major difficulties. Her husband’s workaholic ways left her amply provided for financially, so she has no money worries. But now her youngest child, a computer geek, is on the verge of graduating from college and will soon be apartment hunting with his first serious girlfriend; her middle child and only daughter, a veterinarian, is about to be married to her long-time boyfriend; and her oldest is a successful cartoonist living happily with his partner in a west Village apartment.
It’s not that Kate’s life is empty. She has a successful career as a tax lawyer, she is close to her kids and to her younger sister, and her best friend of forty-eight years is always available for lunches and shopping and the kind of open, cabbages-and-kings conversations that every woman needs. She has two cats, Seven and Eight, and a dog named Boone, part spaniel, part terrier, who thinks she’s a cat, for furry companionship. But despite her blessings, Kate is ready for a change. She left her job with a nice severance package, she is prepared to sell the house where she brought up her children and let someone else worry about cleaning and upkeep on five bedrooms, three and a half baths, three-car garage, pool, and finished basement. Kate wants a condo with health club privileges and walking trails for Boone. She also wants someone to share her life, inside and outside the bedroom. She hasn’t had a date in more than thirty years, but her sister has persuaded her to register on an online dating site.
Kate finds out that Robbie Burns was right about plans “Gang aft agley,” although disruptions to Kate’s plans--things like a wedding with a fraction of the guests she thinks should be invited, a genius son and his even greater genius girlfriend sharing her condo, a wrinkle in her cartoonists son’s perfect relationship, and her estranged mother moving into her basement—are not exactly grief-provoking or painful exactly. Maybe Robbie was only half right. After some disasters, her dating life is improving. In fact, it’s getting downright complicated. There’s the online match, who is a nice guy, and the sex is good, but he’s a bit controlling. Then there’s the blast from the past, the Real True Love who has remained in her memories and in her heart. Then there’s the interesting Englishman, but his ex-wife is a real bitch, and she also happens to be the future mother-in-law of Kate’s daughter. Kate’s calendar and her life are full, but her plan? Let’s just say it’s changing.
Last year I did something I rarely do. I bought Dee Ernst’s debut novel, Better Off Without Him (2010), an eBook, without having read a single review or having one friend recommend it. I bought it based solely on the description of a romance writer with teenage children going through a divorce with the help of her friends and a sexy plumber, and I consider it one of my smartest book buys of 2012. I loved the book. I laughed so loudly that my family asked me to share the joke. When I saw A Slight Change of Plan on NetGalley, I eagerly requested the privilege of reviewing it, another smart decision. A Slight Change of Plan is a worthy follow-up to Better Off Without Him.
I think anyone with a sense of humor will enjoy this book, but I think it resonates particularly with women old enough to have their own fund of mixed memories, hard-earned experience, and reservoirs of love for all the family and friends and lovers, old and new, who own a piece of their hearts.
Often I found myself pausing to reread a sentence or a page. Sometimes the pause was to extend the moment of laughter, but more often it was to luxuriate in the feeling that I was sharing something special. The novel is written in first person, and so all that the reader knows is filtered through Kate’s voice. For some readers that may present a problem, but it is not one for me. I love the intimacy of the first-person point of view. It gave me the feeling that Kate was a person I knew well and liked a great deal and the feeling that Ernst is an author who knows and understands the life I have lived, the lives my friends have lived.
When Kate is clearing her house before moving, she finds that she has to dump some stuff.
I had to get rid of records. I had LPs dating back to the sixties—did you know that Sally Field released an album as the Flying Nun? Some of these were harder to get rid of than others, but, as Jeff pointed out, I had already downloaded everything of importance into my little MP3 player. Since I could now listen to every Dan Fogelberg song ever recorded without having to get up and flip anything over, out went the vinyl. Books were also a bit of a problem. So I just got rid of all of Adam’s and kept mine.
Kate was more disciplined that I. I tossed Sally Field, but I kept my Beatles albums on vinyl. I refuse to count the Dan Fogelberg songs on my playlists. And I almost never got the books packed because I kept stopping to reread favorite bits from various ones.
Then there’s the passage where Kate talks about her Real True Love, the one who left her. Her words struck what Faulkner called the “resonant strings of remembering.”
He was the one.
You never ever loved another man the way you loved him. And when it was over, he broke your heart like it would never be broken again.
Then there are the passages that just make me laugh. For example, this conversation between Kate and her best friend:
“This menopause thing is killing me. Just when I think my libido has taken a permanent vacation, it comes roaring back, and suddenly I miss sex. God, an orgasm is one of life’s few pleasures that isn’t harmful or illegal.”
Cheryl arched an eyebrow. “Don’t need a man for one of those,” she said.
“I know. But I’m tired of naming my vibrators so I have someone to thank.”
If you like romantic comedy that makes you laugh and smile and think and remember, I highly recommend A Slight Change of Plan. If you like it as much as I did, you can still get a digital copy of Better Off Without Him at a very reasonable price. And I’m wondering what’s next from Dee Ernst.
Do you like first person point of view in fiction? Or are you a reader who has a decided preference for third person stories?