CELEBRITY BOOK REVIEW: Hillary Rodham Clinton on “The Possibilities” by Kaui Hart Hemming
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by Courtney Maum
“The Possibilities,” Kaui Hart Hemming’s follow-up to her award winning, “The Descendants,” is a novel that deals in large part with the ramifications of having a child as a single woman in the world we know today. In the still frothing wake of the Supreme Court’s ruling in the Hobby Lobby case, the decision to have — or not to have — a child is a hard choice that is becoming even harder when a body like the Supreme Court decides that it’s no longer ours to make.
Sarah St. John is a single mother working as an infomercialist for the Breckenridge resort in Colorado when her only son, the twenty-two year old Cully, dies in an avalanche. The rest of the novel is an unsentimental depiction of Sarah’s mourning period, a circuitous journey that peaks with discoveries (a mysterious three grand in cash in her son’s winter coat), halts with sorrow (Sarah can’t help from making dour comments when she returns to live TV), and upgrades with hope in the personage of Kit, a young woman who might, or might not have been her son’s secret girlfriend.
Already prone to cynicism, grief has numbed Sarah to a point where it’s difficult for her to feel compassion for other people, including her best friend Suzanne who is being divorced by a man she still loves. She’s having a hard time mustering up the patience and humor that enabled her to work and live in a resort town before Cully’s death. When the story opens, Sarah is relying on displacement and compartmentalization to see her through. “I pretend that I’m not from here,” is the first sentence in the book.
But the cracks are showing. Sarah’s becoming insensitive, even mean. Standing outside the parking lot of the Village Hotel where her son used to be a valet, (or rather, used to hate being a valet), she reflects, “Growing up I’d feel the same thing, an embarrassment to work in front of friends and peers. The worst job I had was fitting ski boots for girls who came here on spring break from places like Florida and Texas. They were always saying, “It hurts,” and I would say that it’s supposed to, making the boots tighter.”
The entire first chapter is laced with the bitter disappointment that so many of us feel now. The cauterizing sensation that this isn’t what we signed up for, isn’t how we want to live. The dumb rage that Sarah feels as she goes through the administrations of her daily life echo the throbbing ache in my head as I start yet another day, trying to find the energy to stay angry and engaged.
“I know a sense of consequence is essential to any job, but the conviction in the weight of my work, the search for import — it’s downright elusive,” writes Hemmings in chapter one. “Yesterday a man named Gary Duran beat his pregnant wife in their home in Dillon. She and her unborn child took the flight for Life helicopter to Denver. Everyone’s waiting to see if she and her baby make it, but we don’t report on things like that. Maybe if we did, I’d be okay. Maybe if we reported on the lack of low-income housing for people who work here but are forced to live elsewhere then maybe I could muster some motivation, or if we focused on tragedies that made me more aware of the world beyond this. But instead we talk about lift tickets, then share tips from Keepin’ It Real Estate and Savvy Skiing with Steve-O.”
I identify with the disgust here, the fatigue, the sense that Americans are keeping America down. The hypocrisy of it, the need to always be wearing this happy, winky face —
I’m sick of it, I’m done. You want to talk about my scrunchies? My pantsuits? About the length of my hair?
How ‘bout we talk about what it was like to be on the West Bank having pomegranate tea with Benjamin Netanyahu, strategizing how to bring about an end to the Gaza Conflict, and I’m testing solutions, and Mahmoud and Mohamed start laughing, and I’m like, what? And Mahmoud Abbas holds up a cellphone image of Honey Boo Boo in a tiara and says: “Hillary? Why are you even here?”
Let’s keep talking about disappointment. And disgust. Let’s tweet and subtweet and “like” and make donations, and let’s have nothing change. Let’s talk about what it’s like to have built my entire career around equal rights for women and to have universal health coverage fail again and again; talk about how I was hit with diarrhea when the news of the Sandy Hook broke out, how I sat in a stall with my guts clenched with horror for the mothers — for those mothers, for all mothers, for mothers just like me — but also with a current of excitement running through me because I knew that finally — finally! — things would really change, and how nothing has changed. Nothing has changed. Not a goddamn thing.
We aren’t moving forwards as a country now; we are spiraling backwards.
And after all of my hard work, my sacrifices, the things that my political efforts have done to my face — after all of this, to end up at a place where a right-wing hawker of sequin tongue depressors gets to make decisions about my daughter’s womb? It enrages me to the point of combustion. To the point of giving up.
Sarah St. John ends up coming to a détente with her friends, her life, her home, but “The Possibilities” is a work of fiction, while us readers are stuck in a place that is becoming more and more loaded to call home. The other day, a journalist friend of mine working on a project in Antarctica sent me a snapchat of a polar bear running in the wild. It made me think of a line in “The Possibilities” that I’d just read. I was in a G6 on the way to the Costco Headquarters in Issaquah to sign stock of my new book, but where I really wanted to be was back in New York looking at baby strollers with Chelsea. I don’t know. I was too tired and too jaded and too sad to type it out in reply to my friend’s video, but this is what it read: “Grainy ashes. We live. We disappear. Sometimes I feel so sorry for all of us.”