Bad things happen to good people. That often makes one has wonder if life gives us more pain, suffering, and hard choices than we can handle. Jane Vollbrecht explores this universal question and more in Second Verse. A freak boating accident leaves Gail Larsen’s beloved partner Marissa in a coma and on life support, and because they never put their critical care instructions in writing, Gail is powerless to fulfill Marissa’s last wishes. Her pain is compounded because Marissa’s parents refuse to acknowledge the nature of their relationship and deny Gail visitation rights. Even after two years, Gail remains heartbroken, guilt-ridden, angry and lonely, which lands her on anti-depressants and in therapy. Marissa, although handicapped from a bout of childhood polio, promised Gail, “Some day, when my legs get better, we’re going dancing,” only that day never came. Gail doubts she will ever stop missing Marissa, but can she ever love again? Will she get to dance through the second verse?
Gail’s boss, the managing editor of Outrageous Press, offers her an opportunity to edit an upcoming release for Connie Martin, “the reigning royalty of alternative feminist literature.” Gail accepts the assignment as a token gesture toward taking her therapist’s advice about expanding her horizons. Gail’s first impression of Connie Martin is that she’s quirky, conceited, bossy, and annoying. Gail refers to her as a ‘pit bull personality housed in a Pekinese body,’ and is convinced Connie ‘mainlines caffeine’. Gail suspects the reason Connie doesn’t allow her picture on the back cover of her books: “Sales would drop by half if her readers knew she’s a Betty Crocker look-alike in need of a makeover” rather than the hot sexy characters she writes about. Despite her first impression, Gail finds herself entangled with Connie in more than a just rapid edit of her manuscript.
On the heels of the debacle with Connie, Gail’s childhood friend Penny Skramstaad asks for Gail’s help back in their old hometown of Plainfield, Minnesota. While assisting Penny with the task of cleaning out her parents’ house, Gail confronts her lifelong crush on her ‘straight’ friend and comes to terms with the past. The trip to her hometown puts many issues to rest, but it conjures up new feelings, as well. Gail finds herself at an unexpected crossroads of letting Marissa go, giving up on any hope of a future with Penny, and not pushing Connie away after all.
Jane Vollbrecht is renowned for creating genuine characters whose only super powers are the inner and outer strength of ordinary people as they cope with real life issues. Second Verse reaffirmed my faith that, in the final analysis, the powers that be only dole out what a person can handle. Our hearts, minds, and souls are stronger than we mortals give them credit for being. Through depictions of women with their warts and all, Vollbrecht captures readers with conviction, honesty, and humor in this character-driven plot. She allows readers to see bits of themselves and to laugh about some of their foibles while trying to address their flaws.
Marissa’s last wish was for Gail to keep dancing. Gail realizes “there are lots of ways to dance. Come to think of it, she and Marissa had danced in all the ways that really mattered.”
Regal Crest Enterprises / $15.95
Paperback, 174 pp.