The Life She Wants
Two childhood best friends, long separated, have been nursing their grudges against each other for fifteen years. After circumstances force the one of them to return to their hometown, can they manage to coexist or will old tensions erupt? The Life She Wants attempts to examine female friendships, but instead presents innocuous characters who did little to make me root for their happily ever afters.
Emma Shay Compton’s husband, Richard, perpetrated a Ponzi scheme and recently committed suicide to avoid jail time. We’re told over and over again that Emma had no idea of Richard’s shady dealings, and as a testimony to her innocence she surrendered any settlement deal she had with the federal government. Instead, she flees their home in New York and drives cross-country to California with only $9,000 to her name.
She hasn’t been back to her hometown in nearly fifteen years, and so throws herself on the mercy of the only person she’s kept in touch with. He and his partner own their own business, but have no work for Emma and so she ends up at a fast-food joint.
The thing is, her former best friend, Riley, runs a successful cleaning empire, but Emma refuses to ask her for a job as they haven’t spoken since Emma’s exit from town. And why is that? Because Riley slept with Emma’s then-boyfriend, Jock, and got pregnant. So Emma is furious with Riley because of that and Riley is furious with Emma because Emma wouldn’t accept Riley’s apology.
Fifteen. Years. Ago.
This is not presented as a dormant wound, by the way, but as an active motivator in both of their emotional lives. Riley hasn’t had a friend since and appears to be a bitter, closed-off person. Emma seems – despite having several challenging circumstances in her upbringing – to have sailed through life with a sense of entitlement and naïveté that I find challenging to believe of a thirty-four-year-old widow.
I’m getting ahead of myself.
Of course the burger joint doesn’t work out, but on her last day of work, Emma runs into Riley’s brother, Adam. Adam, for the record, has loved Emma since forever, even though they have the chemistry of dry toast, and they end up in a relationship which they keep from Riley for most of the book as it would make her angry. Adam, while this is happening, convinces Riley to hire Emma.
Things happen to each of them, but not between them. Emma is exceptional at her job, literally saves a life, and continues to discover what a ratbag her ex-husband was. Riley dates a dude briefly who we know is actively lying to her, but eventually finds her happy ending with someone else. Her daughter, Maddie, and her mother, June, are both engaging side-characters, and Jock is still a major player in their narrative.
Riley realizes she’s an unpleasant person within the last fifty pages of the book, and makes some amends. Some of those are with Emma, but I would hesitate to call it a realized reconciliation. Instead, an event occurs which drives each of them to let bygones be bygones, and be friends again. The way that the author has structured the story, I believe her focus is more on their happily ever after as friends than it is between each woman and their respective partners.
My main issue with the book was that I could not connect with any of the characters. They all feel a little older than the generation they are presented as (late-Millennial), and some of their choices were completely baffling to me. The dialogue often feels a little flat and formal. For anyone who does find Emma and Riley compelling, or perhaps empathizes with their feud (which, I, personally struggled with), I believe you might enjoy this story. It’s a fairly gentle tale that packs a lot of drama in its pages before tying everything into a neat bow.
I’ve noticed several romance authors gravitating more towards the women’s fiction end of the genre after years of writing typical romance. Personally, I hate the terms “chick lit” and “women’s fiction” as signifiers for female-centric, non-romance stories where there isn’t a murder to be solved, but I’m not sure there’s a better one. I wonder if this is the type of story Ms. Carr will continue to write or if she’ll create another series like her famed Virgin River. I’ve read most of her previous work, so I may give the next book a go, but after The Life She Wants, I may embark upon future stories with a bit more trepidation.