Sisters & Husbands
By Connie Briscoe
Grand Central Publishing
272 pp. $24.99
Reviewed by Karen E. Quiñones-Miller
Marriage is a big step, and one that 39-year-old Beverly Jordan is finally ready to take. True, she's been on the marital path twice before and backed out at the last minute, but she's certain the third time is the charm.
Julian, her fiancé, is the perfect man, everyone agrees - everyone being her parents, her best friend, and more important her two older sisters, Charmaine and Evelyn.
Charmaine's been married four times and only recently found Mr. Right herself, so she should know a good man when she sees one, Beverly reasons.
Evelyn's been married to the same man for more than 20 years; if anyone knows what it takes to make a marriage work, surely it's she.
For once Beverly is convinced that the time is right, the man is right, and all is right in the world.
Then the world around her falls apart.
It's been 15 years since New York Times best-selling author Connie Briscoe introduced us to the Jordan sisters in Sisters & Lovers, though only 10 years have passed in the characters' lives.
For those who haven't had the pleasure of reading Sisters & Lovers, don't worry - Sisters & Husbands is not a sequel, and has little to do with its predecessor.
In fact, if you're a first-time Briscoe reader you can read this book without even knowing that the characters are being revisited.
Sisters & Husbands opens with Beverly telling Julian, on the eve of their wedding day, that she's changed her mind; she can't marry him after all. Both of her sisters' marriages are crumbling, and that proves to her that there's no such thing as a happy marriage after all.
Charmaine's one-year marriage to Tyrone had seemed to be one that proved the wisdom of her three earlier divorces. He's a dependable breadwinner, adores her, and is more like a father than a stepfather to her two sons.
The only sore spot in their wedded bliss is Tiffany, Tyrone's spoiled teenage daughter from his previous marriage. Laden with divorce guilt, Tyrone caters to his daughter's every whim and expects Charmaine to do the same.
Still, since Tiffany lives with her mother and comes to stay with Charmaine and Tyrone only on holidays and for two weeks during the summer, the situation is bearable. Then, Tyrone drops a bombshell on Charmaine; Tiffany is staying for the whole summer instead of the usual fortnight. When Tiffany and one of Charmaine's sons get into an argument, Tyrone takes his daughter's side and tempers flare. In a fit of anger Tyrone storms out, taking Tiffany with him.
Even worse is what is going on in Evelyn's household. A psychologist, she has realized that over the years, she and her lawyer husband, Kevin, have grown apart. But with their children now off to college, she thought they'd be able to enjoy the freedom that an empty nest can bring and recapture the magic of their newlywed years. She hadn't counted on her husband's midlife crisis spiraling out of control.
He gives up his law practice and starts clerking at Blockbuster. He shaves his head. He buys a motorcycle. And he no longer shows any interest in her. Still, in hopes that everything will work itself out, she keeps her marital problems from her family. As far as they know, Evelyn and Kevin are still the poster couple for happy marriages.
Then Kevin stonily informs her that he's moving out - though he can't say for how long. When she finally confides in her sisters, it's enough to make Beverly swear off marriage again. If the two marriages she believes in the most aren't sustainable, what chance do she and Julian have?
The strange thing is that with all of these drama-promising situations, Sisters & Husbands suffers from a lack of drama. The problems are laid out, certainly, but they are solved without a real climax ever being achieved. It almost seems that Briscoe loves her characters so much she doesn't want them to go through any prolonged angst.
Still, this is a book that few will regret reading. It's as easy and breezy as Cover Girl, and has a feel-good sensation that will appeal to many.
If you're looking for drama, this isn't the book for you. But if you're simply looking for a good book to escape your own drama-filled life, then Sisters & Husbands easily fills the bill.
Karen E. Quinoñes-Miller is the author of six novels, most recently "Passin'."