A Special Relationship by Douglas Kennedy

January 10, 2011
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A Special Relationship
Douglas Kennedy

Simon & Schuster
1-10-11
Hardcover/411 pages
ISBN: 978-1439199138
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". . .thrilling and interesting and satisfying."

Solid writing with well-rounded and interesting characters caught in a struggle for child custody.

A wild helicopter ride through Somali territory under fire is where Sally Goodchild and Tom Hughes first meet, two journalists meeting under highly charged circumstances. Tom’s confidence is at once comforting and interesting, but Sally just wants to get out of the situation alive.

Back in Cairo, shared danger becomes shared experience and soon a romance that ends with Sally pregnant just as Tom is about to return to London as bureau chief in charge of foreign correspondents. He is unhappy about the desk job, but not about Sally’s pregnancy, so they are married in a whirl and return to England. Sally knows only one friend, another American, in London, Margaret, who gives Sally some hints and pointers and helps her find a house. Tom is less than enthusiastic about moving to Putney, but seems to manage without too much fuss. Sally gives him some space, certain that he will come round when the builders are gone and the baby is born, that is until she ends up bed bound in the hospital for the remainder of her pregnancy due to high blood pressure. She may lose the baby and she’s not handling it well, and neither is Tom. Their lives are on course for an ugly and costly collision.

Douglas Kennedy sets the reader right in the midst of a tense situation with believable characters and carries on making the reader care about Sally. Tom is charming and Sally is caught up in a situation she never thought she’d succumb to, and the reader follows. Even in the beginning, Tom and Sally seem too good to be true: a man in his early forties who is ready and willing to settle down when hit with the news of impending fatherhood. Tom doesn’t even ask if it’s his. Hints of red flags suggest, but are quickly dispelled in A Special Relationship. The red flags don’t take long to fly.

Infidelity and the hint of fraud are always on the horizon but the reader, and Sally, have a lot at stake in hoping for the best, and Kennedy delivers. Kennedy takes Sally through the growing knowledge that she is crumbling and her perceptions of circumstances could be wrong. After all, she has been dancing on a knife blade ever since she discovered she and her child were in danger, a feeling that is emphasized and driven home when she discovers she doesn’t care whether her child lives or dies. She wants to care, but she feels hollowed out and unable to connect.

Sally’s very real fears and the misinterpretation of the hospital and staff around her add to the uncertainty that plagues Sally and the reader. By withholding some of the salient facts, Douglas increases the tension and the stakes, giving A Special Relationship the feel of a cliffhanger with lives at stake.

Kennedy’s ability to breathe life into the female characters make the lack of depth in the male characters that much more confusing. It would seem he is more in touch with the female characters than the males, who serve in most cases as pawns to be pushed about. Though there are bursts of anger and a furtiveness about Tom Hughes’s emotions and actions, he is never more than a solid sketch with little depth. Not so Sally and the other female characters. Tom’s older sister has more depth and presence than Tom does, although this may also be attributed to Sally’s inability to see Tom as more than an idealized version of himself.

There are many special relationships in Kennedy’s novel: the relationship of woman to man, husband to wife, woman to friends and colleagues, patient to caregivers and the legal community and, most importantly, a mother to her child. All of them are important to the story and to the main character. Most importantly is the special relationship between Kennedy and the reader, a promise that is richly fulfilled at the end of the story and throughout Sally’s trials.

I found A Special Relationship to be complex and simple, thrilling and interesting and satisfying. I was on Sally’s side through most of the story and only wavered as she wavered. I never doubted her intent or her descent into the black swamp of depression. Kennedy entranced and surprised me, and I was never bored.

Reviewer: J. M. Cornwell

 

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