Book Review

Book Review: The Pursuit of Happiness – Douglas Kennedy

This novel is 648 pages long. It took me back to the tomes of yesteryear, the kind that kept one spellbound from cover to cover with intrigue and drama.

Douglas Kennedy writes in first person. He tracks the journey of two women, Kate Malone and Sara Smythe. The saga commences at the funeral of Kate’s mother and the spotting of Sara for the first time. Coming to terms with a major loss, Kate is contacted by Sara begging to see her. Not understanding why a total stranger would want to meet at this juncture, she affords her a hearing only to have her world uprooted a second time. Sara claims to be her father’s lover. A father Kate barely knew having passed on when she was only a few months old.

The story shifts to Sara and how she meets Jack Malone at a party in her brother, Eric’s apartment in Manhattan, 1945. One glance was all it took to bring the pair together. They chatted and ended up making love before having to rush Jack back to the ship that would take him out to sea for the next nine months. Though this behaviour was out of character for Sara, she knew Jack was the one. He promised to write everyday as he kissed her deeply and set sail.

Jack lied. Sara wrote countless letters; she waited, hoping he’d return. He sent her a postcard many months later with the words, “I’m sorry”. Sara was crushed. It took forever to forget Jack and only through Eric’s aid was she was able to find herself again. The relationship the siblings shared was unbreakable. Both were up and coming writers reaching success before long. Eric for a short stint was involved in communist party activities which he regretted and distanced from. However, this association leads to his downfall.

Three years later, destiny draws Jack and Sara together again. Only this time Jack is married with a young son who was the reason why he didn’t pursue a relationship with Sara. Now he wants her back and refuses to take no for an answer. Sara eventually relents and they come to an arrangement that allows Jack to remain in his marriage while maintaining one with her. Their affair, for a brief period was everything Sara had hoped for. Once again, Jack lets Sara down, this time betraying her in the worst possible way. Tragedy strikes over and over, Sara caught in the midst, unable to forgive and forget.

Douglas Kennedy is a phenomenal writer. He captures every scene to the minute detail. The capacity to write from a women’s perspective and doing it so convincingly is impressive. There were paragraphs of truth that stood out throughout the book that had to be savoured more than once. Sara’s characterization was impeccable, I felt her heartbreak, suffering and never-ending grief. I laughed, cried, then cried some more until sadness overwhelmed me realising I’d come to the end of her story and there wasn’t any more.

This novel tops my best reads list. A well-deserved five star rating!


“Which is perhaps one of the great reasons why love always disappoints. We enter it hoping it will make us whole – that it will shore up our foundations, end our sense of incompleteness, give us the stability we crave. Then we discover that, on the contrary it is a deeply exposing experience. Because it is so charged with ambivalence. We seek certaintly in another person. We discover doubt – both in the object of our affections and in ourselves.

So perhaps the trick is to recognize the fundamental ambivalence lurking behind every form of human endeavour. Because once you recognise that – once you grasp the flawed nature of everything – you can move forward without disappointment.”

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