Dancing in the Rain
What does ‘dying with dignity’ look like, especially from cancer? What does it mean to become a parent when you weren’t prepared to be one? How does someone process early retirement from a career they’ve been working for since childhood? Do some dreams have to die before better ones can take shape? These are the questions that give shape to Dancing in the Rain, Kelly Jamieson’s newest standalone novel.
Drew’s career as a hockey player has just been ended by a knee injury and he is busy wallowing in self-pity. Along comes Sara Watt to snap him out of it, letting him know the one-night stand they had in college resulted in a child and that now, he’s got some choices to make. Even more significant? Sara has terminal cancer and is only a few months away from death. All of a sudden, Drew’s life becomes about fatherhood and family, especially when he finds himself realizing that Sara’s sister, Peyton, is something special.
Drew Sellers is one of those lads who knew his whole life would be hockey from the moment he strapped on a pair of skates. A knee injury sidelined him last season, progressing into early retirement and leaving him with a deep sense of worthlessness. This side of sports romance, what the professional athlete hero does when the sport stops, isn’t explored too often and I found this time spent with Drew to be heart-wrenching and insightful.
Speaking of heart-wrenching, that’s actually a word I’d use for the whole book. I wrote in my notes that this is a “life” book; one that doesn’t shy away from laying it all out on the table. Sara is dying, but the process of that takes up the first half of the book. Ms. Jamieson delves into how the process of dying affects her daughter, her sister, and the almost-stranger Drew, all of which makes for an emotional read. Ms. Jamieson doesn’t shy away from the process of death, the slow decay of Sara’s body as the cancer ravages it. Particularly gentle is the way she allows her daughter, Chloe, to be a confused and grieving early adolescent. There are moments when Chloe wants to be near her mother and others where the nearness is too painful; moments of perfect behavior, and moments of angry temper tantrums. Chloe isn’t presented as the magical moppet who handles everything bravely; she feels like a real girl being treated pretty crappily by real life.
Of the four characters that drive this narrative, Peyton is the one I wanted badly to take care of. Driven, competent, kind, professional, and absolutely blindsided by her sister’s illness, Peyton spends most of the book traveling back and forth between her professional life in New York and her personal one in Chicago. Once she has full legal custody of Chloe, the decisions she has to make nearly paralyze her. Not only was she not ever really planning on mothering Chloe, but she certainly wasn’t planning on Chloe’s dad being in the picture, and she really, really wasn’t planning on falling for said dad. I wanted to pour her a glass of wine and tell her to take deep breaths because it was all going to work out well in the end.
And work out it does, of course. Amidst the grieving, the trio of survivors learn to find joy among the sorrow (this is where the title comes from as there is literal dancing in literal rain on several occasions) and create new ideas of family. A little sappy, sure, and it borders on that women’s fiction feel a few times before Ms. Jamieson veers back on track to the HEA, but overall it’s a lovely read. Plus, Drew has a rant on double standards for women and the persistence of rape culture that is worth the price of admission alone.
This is one of those books that demands empathy, reminding readers that sometimes those HEAs are harder fought for than others. If you’re in the market to spend some time with authentic characters and grieve with them a little, then I highly recommend Dancing in the Rain.