The Life She Wants
MIRA/ September 27, 2016/ $15.99 print, $9.99 digital
#1 New York Times bestselling author Robyn Carr creates an emotional and uplifting ensemble of characters in this rags-to-riches-to-rags novel about women, friendship and the complex path to happiness
In the aftermath of her financier husband's suicide, Emma Shay Compton's dream life is shattered. Richard Compton stole his clients' life savings to fund a lavish life in New York City and, although she was never involved in the business, Emma bears the burden of her husband's crimes. She is left with nothing.
Only one friend stands by her, a friend she's known since high school, who encourages her to come home to Sonoma County. But starting over isn't easy, and Sonoma is full of unhappy memories, too. And people she'd rather not face, especially Riley Kerrigan.
Riley and Emma were like sisters—until Riley betrayed Emma, ending their friendship. Emma left town, planning to never look back. Now, trying to stand on her own two feet, Emma can't escape her husband's reputation and is forced to turn to the last person she thought she'd ever ask for help—her former best friend. It's an uneasy reunion as both women face the mistakes they've made over the years. Only if they find a way to forgive each other—and themselves—can each of them find the life she wants.
It seems you can go home again. Emma Shay Compton certainly hopes so. Or is Robert Frost’s aphorism more accurate, “Home is the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in?” Emma’s return to Sonoma is a bit of both. The Life She Wants is a riches-to-rags story: Emma’s seemingly idyllic New York City society marriage was nothing but a house of cards. Her financier husband Richard was a swindler and a con-man: faced with a lifetime behind bars, he commits suicide. Emma entered the marriage with nine thousand dollars in the bank and that’s what she leaves with. Although she was not a co-conspirator, she wants nothing from a marriage than turned ugly and arid even before the feds started investigating.
With the help of Lyle, a forever-friend from high school, Emma comes home. Lyle feels compelled to warn her: “It’s a quiet town, but not without its resident gossips and petty meanness.” Is Emma sure she’s ready for that—wouldn’t it be better to relocate to somewhere where she has no history? She rejects his advice.
“In case people are nasty to me or snigger when I walk by? That’s why I came here rather than trying to find some new place where I could be a stranger with a new identity—everyone figures it out eventually. Lies don’t last—Richard was proof of that. Let’s just get it over with.”
Robyn Carr’s crucial, poignant details make Emma’s re-entry ring true. Because Emma applies for jobs under her real name, a quick Goggle search by potential employers gets her turned down repeatedly. She finally gets hired by a fast food restaurant. Thirty-four year-old Emma is working for a nineteen year-old.
They’d given her an evening shift because she was mature and the restaurant was overrun with high school and college kids. But she had trouble keeping up. She took home a paycheck for five days of shift work at about five hours a day in the amount of $91.75—they deducted FICA, Social Security, state and federal taxes, uniform costs. Her net pay was $3.67 per hour. Her feet and back were killing her.
Her eyes are still working though and one afternoon she notices the back of a head. A familiar head: “She knew it was him; she’d know that thick, willful brown hair anywhere.” It’s Riley Kerrigan’s older brother Adam. He’s with Riley’s teenage daughter Maddie. All the pieces of Emma’s past are present.
Adam always had a soft spot—perhaps more than a soft spot—for his sister’s best friend. He’s not about to lose the opportunity to get re-acquainted with Emma. Over a bottle of wine and a tray of cheese, crackers, and fruit, Adam listens while Emma pours out her heart to him. Adam thinks Emma should apply for a job with Riley. Riley, through dint of ferocious determination and smarts, has built a respected, high-end cleaning service. He also senses Emma and Riley, two former best friends, have to heal the hurt between them before they can move on with their lives.
Their first conversation in more than a decade shows how deep the wounds still are.
“You wouldn’t forgive me!” she said. Riley’s eyes glistened and she held her lips in a tight line.
Emma was struck silent. She said the only thing that came to mind. “I was too hurt. Too angry.”
Forgiveness, of herself and others, is woven through Emma’s complicated journey of understanding her past and allowing for the possibility of a loving relationship with a wonderful man. Why does she jump back when Adam moves in to kiss her?
“Shhh,” he said, putting a finger to her lips. “I’m with you. We don’t want to complicate our friendship.” “Right,” she said, because she was at a loss as to how to explain herself. If she’d ever wanted to be kissed, it was now. And if she ever wanted a certain person to kiss her, it was him.
The Life She Wants delves below the surface of everyday life. Robyn Carr’s well-drawn characters in a small-town Sonoma, California setting, inhabit a persuasive story that casts a wider net than one woman’s journey of reclamation. I didn’t want to say goodbye to this fictional world: here’s hoping The Life She Wants will be followed by more stories set in Sonoma.
Learn more about or pre-order a copy of The Life She Wants by Robyn Carr, available September 27, 2016:
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Janet Webb aka @janetnorcal has unpredictable opinions on books. Season ticket holder of the Oakland Athletics baseball team. Social media devotee. Stories on royals and politics catch my eye. Ottawa born. Grew up on Georgette Heyer and Mary Stewart. When I rediscovered the world of romance, my spirit guide was All About Romance's Desert Island Keepers—I started with the “A” authors and never looked back.