Jenny Harris always expected that she'd fall in love, get married, and have a baby-in that order. Now, very pregnant and not quite married, she actually doesn't mind that she and her live-in fiance, Dean, accidentally started their family a little earlier than planned; she's happy to have so much to look forward to. But Dean-whom Jenny loves enough to overlook his bad facial hair, his smoking habit, and his total commitment to a cheesy cover band-is acting distant, and not in a pre-wedding-jitters kind of way. The night he runs out for cigarettes and just doesn't come back, he demotes himself from future husband to sperm donor.
And the very next day, Jenny goes into labor.
In the months that follow, Jenny plunges into a life she never anticipated: single motherhood. At least with the sleep deprivation, sore boobs, and fits of crying (both hers and the baby's), there's not much time to dwell on her broken heart. And things start looking up. She learns how to do everything one-handed, makes friends in a mommy group, and even manages to give dating tips to her sweet, clueless father-who's trying to court her sassy mother again, fifteen years after their divorce. She also gets to know a handsome, helpful neighbor-with a knack for soothing babies-who invites her out dancing. But Dean is never far from Jenny's thoughts or, it turns out, her doorstep, and in the end Jenny must choose between the old life she thought she wanted and the new life she's been lucky to find.
A spirited debut novel with a terrifically appealing voice, a fantastic sense of humor, and a lot of heart, The Bright Side of Disaster reminds us that sometimes it takes the worst-case scenario to show us the best in everything.
From the Hardcover edition.
First-time novelist Center nails ornery and opinionated Texas women in this uneven tale of survival of the hardly fit. "It's not how you wanted it, but it's how it is," jilted and pregnant Jenny Harris is advised by her long-divorced mom. "Much of mothering is that way." Jenny's rock and roll wannabe fiancý Dean Murphy ditches her for a woman who died before he had the chance to sleep with her. ("I don't feel the same about you anymore. It's not my fault," he writes in his I'm-outta-here note.) Jenny has little time to nurse the heartbreak; baby Maxie is born the next day, and all Jenny's plans implode. What pulls Jenny through new mom hell is a network of bright, fearless women who thrive despite the bumbling men around them: Jenny's feisty mom with the "big Texas personality," blunt best friend Meredith and single-mom Claudia prove single women needn't be lonely, pathetic or poor. Yet this gaggle of sharp and funny supergals mostly falls apart when it comes to men. There's a rogue's gallery of thinly drawn louts, and from the rabble rises Jenny's dreamboat neighbor John Gardner, a pediatric nephrologist on sabbatical. Dean, of course, reappears, presenting Jenny with a not-difficult dilemma. Center's debut is fast-moving and pleasantly diverting, thanks to sharp dialogue and a narrative that's heavier on the sass than the diaper rash. (July)
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June 25, 2007
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Excerpt from The Bright Side of Disaster by Katherine Center
The end began with a plane crash. Just before midnight on a Tuesday in February. A girl I'd never met or even heard of died, along with her miniature dachshund (under the seat) and a planeload of passengers in the kind of commuter plane I'll never fly in again. I've pictured it a hundred times now: the quiet hum of the motor, the sleeping passengers, the sudden jolt, the cabin steward thrown sideways before he could finish his instructions. In my mind, it always looks like a movie, because I have nothing else to go on.
That night, I was asleep, safe on the ground, miles away in Texas in my hand-me-down bed, nestled under a patchwork quilt made out of ties from the seventies.
Since getting pregnant, I fell asleep before the double digits. It was something my not-quite-yet-husband, Dean, teased me about. He was a night owl. And I had been one, too. These days, a month before my due date, I was in bed with my swollen ankles up on pillows as soon as the dishes were done. He was out in the living room with his headphones on, likely playing air guitar.
In a slightly different situation, I would have heard about the crash on the news and thought no more about it. I am sure that girl meant many things to many people. And though I didn't know it at the time, and I would not have recognized her if she'd knocked on my door, she meant a lot to me as well--in a roundabout kind of way.
The day Dean came home from the office with the news, I'd been out in the garage for hours pricing things with little orange stickers. I'd quit my job at a fancy antiques store a few weeks back at the urging of the owner. She knew I was planning to quit after the baby came, but she decided it didn't make sense to wait. She took me aside one morning and said that I was, simply, too big. "When you can knock over a piece of Stickley with your belly," she said, "it's time to call it a day." She gave me some coupons for a mani-pedi, promised she'd always give me her dealer discount, and nudged me out the door.
So I was home. And planning our upcoming garage sale with checklists, spreadsheets, and a color-coded map of my yard. At thirty-six weeks and counting, what else was I going to do with myself?
When Dean walked in with a pizza, I was slumped over the aqua dinette in our kitchen, drinking orange juice and trying for an end-of-the- day rally. He popped open a beer and swigged down about half of it. His tie was wrinkled. Really wrinkled, like it'd been on the floor of his car for days before he'd discovered it. I wondered if it would be my job to see to such things when we were married.
He pulled two plates out of the cupboard, and just as I was thinking how much I loved it when Dean brought me pizza, they slid right out of his grip and shattered on the floor.
"Fuck!" he shouted. "Fuck!" He turned and slammed his palm against the cabinet.
I didn't say anything. After five years with him, I knew to lay low. My best friend, Meredith, and I called these moments "occasional eruptions of inappropriate rage." They were, you might say, a part of his charm.
He pressed his head against the cabinets, and I set about picking up. I had to bend over my belly to reach the shards, which made great clanks as they hit the metal bottom of the garbage can. When I went for the broom, he moved to his chair and sat down. Then he said, "A girl from work died last night."
"Died?" I said. "How?"
"Big plane or little plane?" I asked.
"Puddle jumper," he said.
I finished sweeping and leaned the broom against the counter. "Who was it?" I asked, sitting down.
"Just a girl. She worked in graphics." He lifted a slice of pizza and took a tentative bite, as if it might not go down well.
"Was she somebody you knew?" I asked.