Dear Ms. Ernst,
Once upon a time, in a seedy bar, many years ago, I met a man, fell for him on the spot, married him, and decades later count myself lucky to have and hold him as my own. And yet, as I read your book, the wonderful A Different Kind of Forever, I found myself wondering, what if my life had turned out differently. What if I were divorced, trying to raise my kids as a single mom, loving my work, surrounded by great friends, but, romantically, sexually, alone? If I were, if I had that life instead of the one I do, I pray to the gods I, like your forty-five year old divorced heroine Diane Matthews, would have the great good fortune to one day, walking in the park, meet twenty-six year old Michael Carlucci.
Michael isn’t just any twenty-six year old. He’s “Mickey Flynn” the creative genius behind and the keyboard player in one of the world’s most successful bands, NinetySeven. He and his band have come back to their home town to play the last concert of their current tour. A few weeks before the concert, he’s walking his dog Max in the park and Max, who has a serious obsession with pastrami, smells the sandwich Diane is eating and begins dashing toward her. Diane, standing on the picnic table she’s jumped up on, decides her lunch isn’t worth being tackled by a very large dog, and gives Max her sandwich just as Michael finally catches up with his marauding pet.
Diane stared at the animal in amazement, then turned as the owner came running up to her. He was completely winded, gasping, bent over with his hands on his knees, trying to catch his breath.
“I’m so sorry,” he panted. “But my dog really loves pastrami.”
Diane stared at him. “That’s the silliest thing I’ve ever heard.”
The owner of the dog nodded his head. “Oh, I know,” he gulped. “It’s probably the silliest thing I’ve ever had to say.”
Diane began to laugh, a tickle that began in her throat and bubbled up. She felt tears streaming from her eyes. No one would ever believe this. The owner started to laugh with her. He seemed very young, dark hair cut short and as he lifted his smiling face, she saw startling blue eyes, an angular jaw. Suddenly, she stopped laughing
“Oh, my God. I know you.”
He was still breathing heavily. “I’m Michael Carlucci, and this is Max.” The dog had finished and was sitting quietly at his master’s feet. Michael gazed up at her. “I’m very sorry. Can I help you down?”
“Oh. Yes, please.” She felt suddenly awkward, and reached down to take his hand. She climbed down off the table carefully, her skirt riding to mid-thigh, heels unsteady on the grass. They were suddenly eye to eye. He was not much taller than her, slim, in a white polo shirt tucked into faded jeans, a thin belt around his waist. His arms and hands were beautiful, she noticed, sculpted and strong-looking.
““I’m sorry,” she said, smoothing her skirt. “I thought you were somebody else. You look just like Mickey Flynn.”
He grinned sheepishly. “Yeah, that’s me. Michael Flynn Carlucci. I was named for my Irish grandfather.”
“I thought it was you. There’s a life sized poster of you in my daughters’ bedroom.
Diane is the mother of three daughters. While the eldest, Rachel, has outgrown her obsession with NinetySeven, her younger two, Emily and Morgan, ages fourteen and sixteen, have not. Michael, as a peace offering for his dog’s thieving behavior, offers Diane free tickets to the concert, and, after talking with her for a few minutes, asks if he can buy her lunch. At lunch, he throws in backstage passes as well. Diane isn’t sure he’s serious, but sure enough, the next day, a large envelope arrives at her house with eight VIP tickets to the show. Then, that night, Michael calls her and asks her out to dinner. Diane, nervous but attracted, agrees to meet him but doesn’t tell anyone she’s going out with him.
The date though, is perfect. Michael tells Diane his life story, she tells him hers, they drink, laugh, and, when Michael walks her to her car, he kisses her until she can’t breathe and tells her he wants to see her again. They agree to meet backstage after his concert this coming Friday night. Diane, her friend, and their daughters go to hear the band—Diane isn’t sure what to expect. She hasn’t been to a concert in years and all week she’s thought about Michael, his kiss, his smile, and how much she’s wanted to see him again. The concert is great—Diane is astonished at how talented Michael is. As the music winds down, Michael comes out onto the stage—it’s a band tradition: at the end of each show he tells a story. This night, he tells the story of meeting Diane,
“So, last week, I’m back home and I figure I’ll take Max out to Bloomfield Park. I got the Frisbee, I got tennis balls, we’re ready for anything, you know? So, we’re on the ball field, the park is practically empty, we’re having this great old time, and suddenly the wind shifts. Max freezes, and takes off like a shot and I know, man, I just know.” He paused and dropped his voice. “Shhhiiiit. It’s pastrami.”
Diane sank lower into her seat as Sue hit her excitedly on the arm.
“So Max is flying, and I am pounding after him, and there’s one, lone woman, sitting at a picnic table, eating a sandwich.” Laughter. “I yell, ‘he wants your sandwich’, and the woman jumps up on the picnic table, and she sticks out her hand and Max leaps like a gazelle, gets the sandwich, and it’s gone .” The audience started to clap and cheer. Michael was shaking his head, one hand on his hip. “So I’m looking up at this woman.” He got in closer to the mike, and dropped his voice again. “Sensational legs.” Diane glanced over at Emily, who was open-mouthed. “And this great tattoo right above her ankle.”
The crowd roared and hooted. Diane felt the blood drumming in her ears.
“Since she didn’t say anything about suing me,” Michael went on, “I bought her lunch and invited her to the show.” He shaded his eyes and looked down at them. “Are you girls having a good time?”
Megan, Emily and all their friends shrieked and waved excitedly. Michael nodded.
“Good.” He turned to the stage hand that had walked onstage with another microphone and an acoustic guitar. “Thanks, man.” He slipped the guitar strap over his shoulder and adjusted the mike.
“Now I’m going to tell you all about my sisters. I have three, all older, and they were all into music, and I spent my whole childhood sneaking into one of their rooms, and listening to whatever they were listening to. That’s how I began to love music. That’s when I decided to make it a part of my life.”
His voice had dropped, grown softer, and Diane could feel everyone leaning in, straining to hear.
“When I was five, I started taking piano lessons, because everyone in my house took piano lessons. But I wanted to play guitar. Angela, my youngest sister, was taking guitar lessons. I made a deal with my Dad that I’d go to my piano lesson like a good little boy, if I could also go with Angela. So she took me along with her, I’d sit in the corner and listen, then we’d go home and practice together, and that’s how I learned to play the guitar. Angela had this big, old Lennon-McCartney songbook, and we learned every song.” The crowd burst into applause. As they quieted, he went on.
“My sisters all loved the Beatles, especially Paul. I would play and they would sing along. And that is just about as perfect a memory you could have.” He had been looking down as he spoke, his hands folded over the curve of the guitar. He suddenly lifted his eyes and his smile went out across the audience. “I had forgotten. Diane with the sexy tattoo reminded me. I want to thank her for that. So this song is for the Carlucci girls, who are responsible for so many of the good things in my life.”
He began to play ‘And I Love Her.’
Michael, you see, fell in love with Diane the moment he met her. He believes there is one true love out there for each of us and, for him, he’s sure Diane is his. He woos her with everything he has.
Diane though is, well, forty-five. She’s been married—is happily divorced– and has been in love once since her marriage broke up—he was married, so, despite believing she’d found her true love, she wouldn’t get involved with him. She thinks Michael is wonderful but damn, he’s young. And she has her daughters to think about—she’s afraid to tell them about Michael, fearing somehow, they will see his youth and fame as inappropriate for her. And, in fact, the first time the two come close to making love, not only is Diane overwhelmed, she is horrified to be interrupted by her eldest daughter Rachel who bitterly points out Diane is old enough to be Michael’s mother.
But Michael doesn’t give up and slowly but surely pulls Diane into his arms and then his life. The latter is made easier by the fact Rachel is living in the City for the summer and Megan and Emily are spending the summer on the Long Island Shore with their father and his new wife and baby. They spend almost every day and night together. Diane, an academic and a playwright, is putting the final touches on a play that will be opening in the fall. Michael is working on an incredibly challenging project—the score for a movie being made by one of England’s most famously difficult directors. When not working, they make love—God, Diane loves making love with Michael—sail, visit with his friends and family, and, in general live each day to the fullest.
But when the summer comes to an end, the ease with which Diane and Michael have been together unravels. Michael must go to London to work; Diane’s daughters, who, with exception of Rachel, know nothing about Diane’s relationship with Michael, return home; and, most challengingly for Michael, Quinn, the married man Diane once loved is now divorced and is back in town while Michael, lonely and unsure of Diane’s feelings for him, is a continent away from the woman he loves.
So many things in this book worked for me. I liked the way the jobs Diane, Michael, and others do in A Different Kind of Forever is portrayed. The creative work Diane and Michael do is wholly believable as is the context that work exists in. It was interesting to see Diane as both an academic and as a writer. She’s good at both professions, both require different skill sets, and both are shown in realistic detail. The entire context of this book–the neighborhoods Diane and Michael live in, the meals they share with others, even the way the weather is described–seemed credibly genuine. The world you’ve written is the world many of us live in–full of laundry, bills, swing-sets, arguments, and traffic.
The novel is filled with characters, all of whom have parts to play in the story, and are convincingly and compassionately rendered. Diane has complex relationships with her daughters, especially her middle child, Emily. Emily’s anger and hurtfulness is written realistically–and plays beautifully into Diane’s concerns about the choices Diane is struggling between. Diane’s friends and co-workers are also well-done–I was impressed with your ability to write different voices all of which are original and fully formed.
Most importantly, Michael and Diane are remarkably real people. I’ve read countless contemporaries with famous, sexy young men—rock stars, athletes, bazillionaires–Michael is one of the most genuine. He’s a man–a young man–first, a musician second, and, several steps down the list, a rock star. His love for Diane seems impossibly idealistic and yet authentic. He’s fallen in love for the first time in his life—his joy and hope are breathtaking… and somewhat unbelievable to Diane. As she points out to him, their life together, were they to make a permanent life together, faces all sorts of pitfalls.
Diane’s fears, of course, aren’t unfounded, and that’s one of the very best things about this book. For Diane to partner with Michael, she has to believe not only in his love for her but in herself. We live in a culture where beauty, youth, and wealth are prized over their counterparts. Michael will always have more of all of those coveted assets than will Diane. She likes herself and yet, at one point, she hies herself off for a full spa makeover because, as she tells one of her best friends,
“A couple of nights ago, Michael and I went to the movies, and afterwards, I went to the bathroom, and you know how those lines are, so I was in there for a while, and when I came out, this incredible girl was talking to Michael. Sharon, she was gorgeous, legs up to her neck, boobs out to there, swinging all this long hair around. I just looked at her and felt, well, old and run-down. So I figured I’d treat myself to a little sprucing up.” “Shit.” Sharon said angrily. “You look fantastic, Diane.” Diane looked at her friend. “I know I do. I think I look great for my age. But I’m still forty-five, you know? My boobs sag, I’ve got those great little lines around my eyes, my jaw line is soft and puffy, not to mention the gray hair.” Sharon snorted. “Now wait. Your hair always looks terrific. I haven’t seen gray on your head in a long time.” Diane made a face. “I’m not talking about the hair on my head,” she said wryly. Sharon sighed. “Oh, that gray hair. Yeah, that really sucks.”
Yep, it does.
I don’t know if this book would resonate with younger women in the way that it did with me. If you’ve never, in an irate moment, seen age as just giving you more to shave, perhaps Diane’s fears might seem overblown. After all, she’s got a gorgeous, sweetheart of a man who loves her and has the sexual stamina of a twenty-six year old. But Diane’s fears and doubts are portrayed so well, so realistically that, honestly, I wasn’t sure how the book would end. But as I turned the pages, reading late in to the night, I hoped that Michael and his conviction of true love, would be stronger than Diane’s fears. I give it a B.