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A Scattered Life is the kind of novel you’ll want to recommend to a friend without quite knowing how: as soon as you begin to say what the book is "about," all of the possible descriptions seem either too small or too big for the story contained in those pages.
You might say, "It’s about friendship and family dynamics and the unexpected ways our actions influence the trajectories of other people’s lives." Or "It’s about a woman who’s doing her best to make the life she has into the life she wants to live." And it’s your 7th grade book report on The Red Pony all over again: your description isn’t inaccurate, but it doesn’t come close to conveying the book’s gravity and substance, the particular pleasure you get from immersing yourself in this novel, as opposed to any other.
So you might try getting more specific: "Okay, the main character is a woman named Skyla Plinka. She’s married and lives in the suburbs and has a little girl, and her life is all very ordered and predictable, which she likes, because her childhood was tough and she’s always craved stability. She clashes a little bit with her mother-in-law, Audrey, who has different ideas about how a wife and mother should run her home and who would like to be more involved in her life than Skyla is comfortable with. But then a new family moves in next door, and Skyla strikes up a friendship with her new neighbor Roxanne, who’s brash and charismatic and has five kids and just loves living in the kind of messy chaos that they create..." And you realize you’ve gone too far in the other direction, zooming in on the details of an individual tree, while ignoring the vastness and beauty of the forest.
So here’s how I’m going to recommend A Scattered Life: From the very first sentence--"Skyla’s earliest memory of Thomas was linked with the smell of beer and the taste of blood"--Karen McQuestion had me right where she wanted me. Right away, I was there with Skyla, curious about who she was and what choices she’d made, and ready to live her life for a while, instead of my own.
McQuestion has a talent for creating characters who are layered and subtle, flawed and ordinary and exceptional, in the way we all are. The book alternates between the viewpoints of the three women--Skyla, Roxanne and Audrey--and their incomplete and refracted perspectives come together to form a narrative that’s fuller and more complex than the story any one of them might tell on her own.
McQuestion writes with a sharp eye and a sure voice, and as a reader, I was willing to go wherever she wanted to take me. After I finished the book, I thought about how I might describe it to a friend, and I settled on a phrase that says a lot without saying very much at all. It’s the way these conversations usually end: "You should read this. It’s good." --Carolyn Parkhurst