'Only One Life' Summer Beach Read
A warm story of relationships, mistakes and reconciliation
Only One Life: A Novel
By Ashley Farley
Reviewed by Annie Tobey
Don’t let the heart-wrenching, slightly contrived beginning scare you away. Followers of the TV show This Is Us understand that a tragedy can make you want to renounce your fan status yet still keep you emotionally engaged. An easy beach read, Only One Life offers compelling characters and a page-turning plot.
Only One Life gets the tragedy out of the way more quickly than This Is Us, though the grief also lingers – this perfect husband, also named “Jack” (coincidence?), inevitably leaves a void. But in Only One Life, Jack does not continue to move the plot, except to indirectly re-establish the mother-daughter connection. Instead, the story revolves around the fractured relationship between Julia and her mother, Iris, and reaches back through the years to the early years of Iris’ marriage to Julia’s father. The back story provides plot interest while explaining the women’s rift.
The book’s protagonists, Julia and Iris pull readers in to the story. Each woman is likeable, complex and sympathetic. They are like those friends whose company you enjoy, yet who aggravate you with the decisions they make or avoid making. Indeed, friendship plays a key role throughout the book, especially the enduring relationship between Iris and her best friend, Lily.
The contrasting characters, on the other hand, are pure evil, without complexity or redeeming qualities. Max and Alex (Iris’ husband and daughter, Julia’s father and sister) are flat stereotypes of controlling narcissism.
Where the characterization can seem a little trite, the plot weaves an engaging tale with unexpected twists, through Lily’s past and up to her reconnection with Julia. The likeable characters, their struggles against the antagonists and the believable plot twists keep the reader tuned in.
The story contains meaningful lessons, too, without being preachy – on wealth and simplicity, on friendship and reconciliation, on making the most of this “one life.” The author doesn’t focus on romance as an overriding theme but includes enough to satisfy most appreciative readers.
Author Ashley Farley has lived in Richmond, Virginia, for two decades, but she grew up in Southern Carolina Lowcountry, where her books are set. As with Only One Life, Farley’s other books highlight the lives of women, in the culture and setting of the South.
So set up a beach chair and a pitcher of Margaritas, with a few tissues on the side, and pick up a copy of Only One Life. It just may inspire you to life your one life a little better.
Published by Lake Union Publishing, April 23, 2019
Available in paperback (298 pages, $14.95), e-book and audiobook