Lucy is lonely. She is in her late thirties and her only close friend is a fellow college professor named Harlan. Harlan dies in the very first chapter if A Watershed Year. He was only thirty three years old and Lucy had spent the last year caring for him as he wasted away from cancer. Now that he is dead, she has no idea what to do with herself. She needs to focus on her career in order to get tenure at the college where she works but everything changes when, just a few months after his death, an email from Harlan shows up in her in box. It turns out that Harlan has set it up so that Lucy receives an email from him on the tenth of every month. He feels that he has dies without telling Lucy everything he needs to tell her.
I accepted this book for one reason. It reminded me of Cecilia Ahern’s book PS I Love You. And in a way, A Watershed Year was very similar. Obviously there were enormous differences though. Once Lucy begins receiving Harlan’s emails though, she realizes that she needs to take hold of her life and start living again. She decides to adopt. Problem is, she is a bit short on cash, so she ends up in an adoption agency that specializes in Russian adoptions. All of a sudden, she is on track to adopt a little boy named Mat who is four years old. I must admit, the way she goes through with the adoption was unrealistic, which ended up with its own consequences. It made for a good story, so I was able to overlook it, but seriously, what was she thinking?! The decisions she made were in poor taste and could have cost her greatly.
The adoption ended up becoming a huge plot point, and I started to wonder if perhaps there was too much going on plot wise. You have the death of Harlan and his emails but that all of a sudden takes a backseat to Lucy’s adoption of Mat. The linear-ness of the novel was upturned and suddenly the original premise was somewhat forgotten.
The love triangle in the story was great and annoying at the same time. Lucy obviously loved Harlan. She wouldn’t admit it to him and instead she spent her days as his caregiver. As his emails started to arrive, you began to wonder if Harlan felt the same way towards Lucy. And the whole unrequited love thing was frustrating. But then I would remind myself he was dying. So I can understand why that would be something that they would both brush under the rug. But then we had Louis. He also works at the same college as Harlan and Lucy and he obviously has a thing for Lucy. Which is fine, because Harlan is dead and she can’t be with him. So she should go for a good guy like Louis. He wants to be with her, he wants to help with Mat . . . so what’s the problem? Lucy treats him the same way she did Harlan, by not admitting her true feelings and instead employing subterfuges so she doesn’t have to confront the situation.
Another issue I want to touch on is Harlan’s illness. SPOILER ALERT: We find out at the end of the novel that Harlan had the ability to continue on with treatment to buy himself another year or two of life, but he chose to forgo additional treatment so that Lucy wouldn’t have to watch him deteriorate for that much longer. I thought that brought up a great internal conflict. Did he do the right thing? Should he have continued to fight? Is it worth it to gain an extra year or two when you know you’ll be extremely ill or in pain? Would that extra time be worth it? I really struggled with those questions, but I definitely couldn’t fault Harlan for his choice. I could completely understand why he chose to go the route he did. END SPOILER
The copy of A Watershed Year that I received from the publisher included a question and answer session with the author in the back that I found very illuminating. I thought it was very interesting that the first chapter of the book was originally a short story. I remember finishing the first chapter and feeling like it was so conclusive and wondering where the novel would go from there. I admit, I was little scared because there was such a note of finality. It all made sense once I read the interview!
I thought A Watershed Year was phenomenal. Obviously it had a few minor issues, but overall the story was so engaging I was able to overlook any niggling doubts I had.
Susan Schoenberger, of West Hartford, CT, is a writer, editor and copy editor with a long history of working for news organizations, including The Baltimore Sun, The Hartford Courant, and Patch.com. A Watershed Year, her debut novel, won the William Faulkner-William Wisdom Creative Writing Competition in 2006 under the title Intercession and was short-listed for the Peter Taylor Prize. Susan also received an artist fellowship from the Connecticut Commission on Culture and Tourism to work toward the novel’s publication. Susan’s short stories have been published in Inkwell, The Rambler, and Bartleby Snopes. When she’s not working or driving one of her three children around, she is writing a second novel. For more information, please visit www.susanschoenberger.com.
Susan’s Tour Stops
Monday, October 31st: A Cozy Reader’s Corner
Wednesday, November 2nd: Books and Movies
Tuesday, November 8th: Sidewalk Shoes
Wednesday, November 9th: Books in the City
Wednesday, November 9th: Books Like Breathing
Thursday, November 10th: Kelly’s Lucky You!
Monday, November 14th: Sara’s Organized Chaos
Tuesday, November 15th: Chronicles of a Country Girl
Wednesday, November 16th: Reviews by Lola
Thursday, November 17th: Bibliophiliac
Monday, November 21st: Laura’s Reviews
Tuesday, November 22nd: BookNAround
Monday, November 28th: Among Stories
Wednesday, November 30th: The Lost Entwife
Thursday, December 1st: Booksie’s Blog