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Know the West

Grief’s possible outcomes

Review of ‘The Possibilities’ by Kaui Hart Hemmings.


The Possibilities
Kaui Hart Hemmings
274 pages, hardcover:
Simon & Schuster, 2014.

In Kaui Hart Hemmings’ new novel, The Possibilities, the tourist town of Breckenridge, Colorado, becomes the setting for a family tragedy that is also a romance. Like her previous book, The Descendants, which went on to become a hit movie, The Possibilities grapples with the complexities of modern family life. After a young man named Cully is killed in an avalanche, everything in his orbit is upended: the relationships between parents and children, lovers and ex-lovers, grandparents and great-grandparents, the self and its discontents.

Over three days, the reader travels with Cully’s mother, Sarah, from Breckenridge to Colorado Springs for a memorial service, and back again, accompanied by Cully’s father, grandfather and a female friend of Cully’s, whom the bereaved family has never met. Not much happens, yet everything changes. Hemmings is a writer of humor and nuance, charting the internal trajectories of grief as they manifest in her characters.

“A surprise spring of tears floods my vision. … None of this makes sense. Part of me wants to jump off the balcony. Part of me wants to sing from it. I love and hate this life.” Gazing at Pikes Peak after yet another surprising revelation about her son, Sarah tries to reconcile opposing realities. At the same time, she begins constructing a new identity for herself, one that no longer includes motherhood.

A native of Breckenridge and a descendant of settlers, Sarah turns a wry gaze on the ritzy ski-town residents of the former miners’ hamlet. Tidbits from Breckenridge history sprinkle the domestic drama, like the story of the minister who deliberately rang his morning bells early to awaken the hungover residents. “One day some of the townspeople used dynamite mining caps to blow up his church steeple.”

Parts of the novel elicit laughter, others flashes of the deepest sorrow. The Possibilities, like a sturdy chairlift, transports the reader from the bottom to the summit of life, taking in the whole human range between ecstasy and despair.

“I live in a beautiful place. The surrounding pines, so impossibly tall, sparkle with snow. I tilt my face and inhale, willing my surroundings to enter me somehow and to remind me how small I am.”

A snowboarder triggers an avalanche.
Ivan Chudakov /Shutterstock