The two-author collaboration of Liz Fenton and Lisa Steinke have spun an interesting premise in The Year We Turned Forty. The story chronicles the lives of three longtime friends, who are each going through important and life-changing crises. Jessie’s marriage is on the brink of finality but not because she doesn’t love her husband. She loves Grant more than anything, but her one night with another man, borne out of her own insecurities and lack of communication brought dire consequences, and she isn’t sure that her marriage to Grant will survive it.
Gabriela has earnestly pursued her publishing career her whole life. When she begins to yearn for a baby, she finds that her husband may not be as on board with the idea as she is. Their marriage begins to suffer, and Gaby isn’t sure she can move forward with someone who doesn’t want what she wants.
Engaged-to-be-married Claire adamantly believes her life to be the most stable one of the trio. However, she secretly dreams of things she has lost and the road not taken with the man she thought was her soulmate. Her relationship with her daughter Emily is not the best, and she constantly wishes that she would’ve had more time with her own mother before she died of cancer.
In a very strange twist, these three broken friends are given the unique chance to go back and do everything over again. At this point, the story becomes an unforeseen amalgam of the films Sliding Doors and Shallow Hal. In the end the characters are not truly saved from the consequences of their actions, but to their credit, they do handle things differently the second time around which in a way is a sore attempt at a kind of resolution.
The ending was actually the part that works the best with the overall story development. Jessie is without a doubt the most flawed of all three women and therefore, her part is the most complex; the consequences of her foolish affair, at a time when she was disappointed in her husband and in her marriage leave Jessie hanging at the edge of misery and loneliness. And later, when after an even more foolish try at redemption ends up jeopardizing what she values the most, she finally learns the hard way and gains more perspective as a person, wife and mother.
Fenton and Steinke play at incorporating a humorous vein into a dramatic plot; so if readers are looking for a story brimming with soul-searching journeys and new-found middle-aged enlightenment, they won’t truly find it in The Year We Turned Forty. The title and the description of the different difficulties that these three friends go through in their lives, don’t hint at the plot turn in which Jessie, Claire and Gabriela have the chance to oddly relive their past, make amends for their mistakes, and hopefully walk away with enough wisdom to avoid similar future tribulations.
Note from the author: This review was based on an advanced reader’s copy provided by Netgalley and the publisher.