Timing is everything. I loved Hannah Pittard’s first book (The Fates Will Find Their Way) so much that getting an ARC of her second felt like winning the lottery. If I played the lottery, which I don’t. So a book lottery, I guess. I especially wanted to read Reunion because it was due out in October 2014 from Grand Central, an imprint of Hachette publishing. Hachette, if you’ll recall, was in a dispute with Amazon over terms. Amazon refused to allow pre-orders and delayed shipments for weeks. Booksellers worried about authors being lost in the battle between two giant corporations; I wanted to do my part to make sure this great new author found some readers.
(Was I worried that I wouldn’t like Reunion? Read The Fates Will Find Their Way and ask me that again. Except if you do, then you won’t. So no, I wasn’t.)
Only I didn’t do my part; I put Reunion on my desk at work and it got buried. When I got organized for the holidays, I found the ARC tucked between a box of signed first editions of George W. Bush’s memoir and a leather sample case of fancy pens. I got excited all over again; Hannah Pittard, didn’t she write The Fates Will Find Their Way? I forgot I had this – awesome!
I expected to read Reunion over a course of breakfasts and bedtimes. Instead, it took my weekend because I couldn’t put it down, and now I’m filled with that same post-Fates fire – when Pittard’s third book (Listen to Me) comes out in July, I will be first in line to get it.
In Reunion, Kate Pulaski is meeting her family in Atlanta for her father’s funeral. Kate’s father is a suicide, her marriage is in shambles, and her career and finances are in the toilet, yet buoyed by Kate’s giddy dread over what’s going to happen next in her life, none of this is depressing to read about. From another narrator, or another family, this would be heavy stuff. For Kate and for the Pulaski’s, it’s what they happen to be doing while they’re trying to live their lives. It’s a tone that would be callous or glib in a lesser writer’s hands, but Pittard makes us believe it because she makes us believe Kate. She also crafts the family scenes perfectly.
One of my favorite aspects of the book is how Kate anticipates the reader. I’m going to make up an example because I don’t want to give anything away. You’d read about Aunt Petunia’s penchant for histrionics and the relative strengths of different models of caskets and think, “Oh, I know where this is going; Aunt Petunia is going to throw herself on Stan Pulaski’s coffin.” Then Kate would think, “Wow, if Aunt Petunia throws herself on dad’s coffin then we’ll really see if we’re getting our money’s worth from the deluxe model.” Pittard knows the cliches and she’s not just avoiding them, she’s shaming them.
As a writer on the hunt for material, Kates is also comments on the plot – a device that Pittard uses sparingly but effectively. For instance, her agent believes Kate should turn the experience into a memoir (and is Reunion a book-within-a-book, Kate Pulaski’s memoir? It’s a testament to how well Pittard knows this character that it could well be). Kate imagines how that memoir would begin.
My father is dead.
Everybody’s father is dead. Try again.
My marriage is over and my father died this morning.
Good God. If I were reading that book, I’d throw it across the window before I finished the first sentence. Try again.
My mother died when I was a little girl. My father died when I was a woman.
Am I trying for chick lit? Keep it simple. Be honest. Facts only.
On June 16th, at roughly eight thirty in the morning, I get the phone call that my father is dead.
That’s not quite right, but it’s better.
Hannah Pittard puts at least that much effort into each line of Kate Pulaski’s narrative, and it shows on the page, where there isn’t a sour note or a word out of place.
I apologize for taking so long to tell you about Reunion. On the plus side, you can buy it in paperback rather than hardcover.