The Dane of My Existence
Grade : B

The Dane of My Existence is my first experience with Jessica Martin, and is only her second novel, but I’m glad I took the chance. She hits all the right notes with this story of a high-powered attorney who rebalances her life with a summer sabbatical in a quaint New England town.

Portia Barnes has just been made a managing partner at her law firm, and is thrilled to be moving to Boston to run their new office. She is a ruthlessly efficient woman who truly enjoys her work – so it’s disorienting to find herself sent away from the office for three months before the Boston branch gets up and running. This sabbatical is standard practice for the firm’s new managing partners to ensure that they are rested and ready for the mental toll of their new role, but that doesn’t make it any easier for Portia to let go. Begrudgingly, she sets her out of office message and points her car north to the little town of Bard’s Rest in New Hampshire, where she will be staying with her family during her summer off.

The truth is that as much as Portia wishes she could stay at work, she knows it’s a good thing for her to be home. Her mom was recently diagnosed with cancer, and while the outlook is good, she still has some chemo scheduled over the summer. Portia’s dad and one of her sisters live in Bard’s Rest and have been supporting her mom full-time, while another sister lives nearby and has been able to pitch in sporadically. Portia wants to pull her weight for her family, whether that means taking her mom to the doctor or offering pro-bono legal services to the town for its annual Shakespeare festival, which her mother is running. For all that she claims to dislike the small town and long for the city, it’s quickly clear to the reader that there’s a very soft heart under Portia’s tough lawyer-ly exterior.

And it’s not just the reader who finds that soft heart appealing. Shortly after arriving in Bard’s Rest, Portia notices a new face around town. Benjamin Dane is a property developer from Boston who is interested in building some luxury vacation condos, and thinks that Bard’s Rest could be a good place for them. Unfortunately, the town residents think otherwise. Although Portia and Ben have a lot of chemistry, it’s made clear to him early on that Portia’s loyalty (at least on this issue) is to the town. Over time it causes a fair bit of conflict between them, as the new couple tries and fails to keep their relationship separate from the issue of whether Ben can buy and develop property in the town. Luckily they are (eventually) mature enough to talk things through and let love win the day, regardless of who controls the town’s land.

Ben and Portia are sweet together, although the story feels more focused on Potia’s growth individually than their growth as a couple. The only real problem I can point to is the addition of Portia’s one-dimensional, villainous boss. In talking to Ben, Portia discovers that her boss/mentor has been engaging in some shady dealings in the Boston construction scene, some of which have impacted Ben’s company. Because she’s an ethical person, Portia confronts her boss about it, which ultimately serves as a catalyst for her to take a position at a smaller, less cutthroat firm. I really liked seeing Portia change her career path slightly, and finding a way to make more time for a personal life without giving up on her dreams or on work she truly enjoyed. But the villainous boss is gratuitous – he doesn’t add much to the story, other than being some sort of symbolism for corporate greed in America, and in fact made me question how clueless Portia could have been to work under him and not pick up on these tendencies.

Overall, though, The Dane of My Existence is a fun read. It made me want to quit my own job in corporate America to spend time in a quiet town full of Shakespeare puns and drama nerds!

Reviewed by Alexandra Anderson

Grade: B

Sensuality: Warm

Review Date : July 9, 2023

Publication Date: 07/2023

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  1. I read Ulrich’s book several years ago,it was excellent. American Experience on PBS did an adaptation of the book, it…

Alexandra Anderson

College student by day. Book enthusiast around the clock. With any luck I'll eventually be able to afford food AND books. But I've got my priorities straight.
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