Katharine Noel
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Buy *Meantime* by Katharine Noelonline

Katharine Noel
Grove Press
288 pages
November 2016
rated 3 1/2 of 5 possible stars

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Meantime, while we’re tending a sick parent or studying for a difficult exam, life keeps swirling around us, almost as if the current situation or disaster weren’t occurring. That is the main premise of Katharine Noel’s novel: to continue to see and contemplate what is going on around us when the unexpected occurs. Or, as poet W.H. Auden wrote, “There is always another story, there is more than meets the eye.”

The setting is contemporary San Francisco. Thirty-somethings Claire and Jeremy have been married for several years; the couple appear to be happy and in love. Claire restores antique furniture; Jeremy is a schoolteacher. Fortinbras, a huge, elegant Great Dane, lives them (and graces the book’s cover) but does not have a huge impact, except for providing companionship, on the whole story. However, as an animal advocate and avid reader, I must admit--the presence of a dog on a cover always draws my attention.

Jeremy is badly injured in a bicycle accident and spends months in hospital, then at home for recovery. One day, not long after the accident resulting in a bloody leg scrape, Jeremy begins to feel fluey, headachy and nauseous--then goes into septic shock. Rushed to the E. R., he codes blue; he vomits black. Around this time, a ghost from his past shows up, uninvited: an old, the old, girlfriend, Gita. “That Gita’s [ghost] seemed to be my husband only made me feel lucky,” thinks Claire when she first meets her. She also reflects, “Gita had been the one to call 911. She’d quite possibly saved his life.”

Although Claire feels grateful, she begins to feel seriously jealous about the increasing role Gita is playing in their family. She spends time alone with Gita, trying to figure out Jeremy’s initial attraction. Will the three remain merely friends? As in the recent film 45 Years, about a long marriage and an unexpected phone call concerning a woman the husband had almost married decades ago, the apparition or physical presence of an old flame does complicate matters. This is the gist of the narrative: will the first attraction overcome the apparently secure marriage? And what relationships remain secure or uncomplicated in our constantly changing and troubled world?

Another key player in this novel is Nicole, Claire’s stepsister, unmarried but wanting a child at almost any price. She has little interest in being someone’s partner, however. Claire is not interested in mothering at this point in her development. Although Nicole and Claire grew up in what neighbors called The Naked Family, that name is inappropriate; they were not nudists, but they were mighty strange. Two couples with their children shared a household and much more. As a result, Claire wants to remain unconventional while Nicole longs to be much more “normal.”

This narrative is captivating and maintains a good pace. There are many moments of soul-searching, reaching painful truths. The situation could happen to any couple at any age. But the characters do not sparkle; they feel somewhat stereotyped, and they do not linger in my imagination. The plot feels quite chick-lit-sh, despite the somewhat older ages of the three central people. I suspect the readers of this novel will be primarily young women, embarking on their adult lives.

In Meantime, the conclusion is not terribly hard to predict. Things happen in the meantime while daily life is going on. Claire could vouch for that.

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at © Deborah Straw, 2017

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