Before and Again
Barbara Delinsky
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Buy *Before and Again* by Barbara Delinskyonline

Before and Again
Barbara Delinsky
St. Martin's Press
416 pages
June 2018
rated 4 1/2 of 5 possible stars

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We often move through our days animated by trust in human relationships. This volatile quality is important in a wide range of interactions, from friendships to love affairs to chance encounters with someone who at first glance seems to be our soul mate. Though Delinsky's book is marketed as "women's fiction," it's actually an accurate depiction of the search for forgiveness in the painful aftermath of a dead child and a mother's efforts to thrive far from the judgment of her family. Maggie settles in the small south-central Vermont town of Devon after a terrible car accident kills Lily, her daughter. Though five years have passed, Maggie remains haunted by the mug shots, the headaches, ("a little dose of daily punishment") and the bright red scar on her forehead, a constant reminder of her instant lack of judgment the night of the crash.

For now, anyway, survival is the key. Once a week, Maggie attends Devon's pottery studio, the smell of the clay acting as a salve. Since the tragedy, there are too many memories and too many dreams, "too many speculative looks." Maggie also works diligently as a makeup artist at the salubrious Devon Inn and Spa. The job is a way for her to focus on other people, yet it's also become her armor--that is until bedtime, when this new face is washed off and Maggie is once again plunged back into her past.

No one knows about Maggie's previous life except Kevin, her best friend. Many don't even know that she's really Margaret Mackenzie Cooper--the artist, the wife, and the mother, a part of the elite to which for a time she and her ex-husband, Edward, belonged. Her closest companion is Grace Emory, the spa's popular massage therapist. Maggie and Grace's friendship is about "the here and now." Like Maggie, Grace is a caring woman in search of herself. Though Maggie's attempts to remake her life and find happiness gives the novel its weight, the plot is propelled by the sudden arrest of Chris, Grace's fifteen-year-old son. Chris has apparently hacked into Twitter accounts of other people, "people like our clients." Grace tells her that the FBI have just picked him up at school.

Maggie is terrified of becoming involved with anything law-related. She's spent much of her time in Devon avoiding the spotlight, but now shaky and distracted, Grace and Chris's legal troubles threaten to hijack her new life, dredging up memories Maggie has worked hard to forget. Though Maggie's first instinct is to hide, the defiant part of her wants to help her friend: "Grace is a good mother and a hard worker, and Chris is a good kid." Grace begs Maggie to come to court to keep her steady and to support Chris, who with each passing day becomes more lost and disillusioned.

As Maggie weighs the pros and cons of getting involved, she worries about how Chris's arrest is going to affect the spa. Maggie's situation becomes more complicated when dark-featured Edward arrives in Devon. Maggie likes to remember her last view of him, but his showing up has "now screwed that." Edward's presence is the last thing she needs. Maggie values her job; she has friends; she has a home of her own. Her self-identity is important to her now. Delinky's female-centric novel converges on Maggie as she attempts to reconnect with Edward, a charismatic investor who she unexpectedly learns has taken on the role of inn owner. Faced with the media onslaught over Chris and Grace, Maggie worries about the exposure. Her probation officer warns her that, with only a handful of months to go until her probation is lifted, she can't be drawn to anything crime-related in the news or anywhere near "a questionable situation."

Edward's arrival and Chris's "mess" lead Maggie to the understanding that bucolic Devon isn't the refuge it had been only a short time ago. Delinsky interlocks each character with Maggie: her brother, Liam, an accomplished chef who wants to open new a French bistro; Edward, blinded by guilt over how he's treated Maggie; Grace and her efforts to hide from the media while running from her past; and Chris, who is drawn to Maggie yet feels a sense of disconnection from the impulses that have brought him here.

Devon might be beautiful, but like anywhere else, it is full of private heartaches and secret sorrows. The author sews the tapestry of Maggie's life, bundling it into a series of loose threads that delicately connect Maggie to her estranged mother, to Liam, to dear Lily, and finally to Edward, who admits that he failed to communicate fully with Maggie after Lily died. The more the present unfolds, the more the past will find its place. Perhaps through Edward, Maggie will finally be able to repair her damaged, aching heart.

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at Michael Leonard, 2018

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