“How old would you be if you didn’t know how old you are?” ~ Satchel Paige
This is the story of an overworked, over-ambitious, 30-something New York attorney who becomes a widower with a toddler son. When we meet him, his wife Mira has been deceased for over two years but Charlie Goldwyn is still spending days at a time away from home, leaving his 5-year-old son Caleb in the capable hands of his twin sister Zadie. Charlie’s response to grief is to smother it with work, a pattern he set at the time of his mother’s illness and death a year before Mira’s. Although his coping skill for both deaths was the same, his mother died from cancer, while Mira was on Flight 173 whose pilot was bent on suicide and taking the other 269 people on the plane with him. Charlie expected to bury his mother at some point, but the plan was to have another child and a long life with Mira.
Charlie is a perfectionist whose aim in life since he was a preschooler was to know the right thing and do it well. His twin Zadie is opposite, not just in gender, but in approach to life. She has never held a steady job for more than a few months at a time, although she did achieve certification in Reiki therapy and in the culinary art of baking. Her need for a residence coincided with Charlie’s need for reliable childcare after Mira’s death. Caleb Goldwyn is a 5-year-old boy who is in love with the colors purple and pink, wears his pink Converses with most outfits every day to preschool summer “camp” in Manhattan and prefers leggings to jeans or pants. He is also obsessed with natural disasters, not just the hurricanes which have hit the East Coast, but earthquakes as well. His Aunt Zadie has allowed her backpack to be used as his disaster emergency kit. Caleb has six of the needed 24 items in this kit. Caleb and Zadie not only love each other unconditionally, they understand and accept each other. Charlie, on the other hand, worries about his son who has no friends other than imaginary ones, wants to dress like a girl, and is obsessed with natural disasters to the point that it sometimes interrupts his sleep.
After working three straight days and nights on preparation of a case, Charlie Goldwyn is beyond tired and promises Zadie he will be home in time for her to meet her boyfriend Buck for dinner. As he is trying to escape to the elevator, he is waylaid by Fred Kellerman, his mentor during his almost 10 years at the law firm. Fred reminds him it is the night of the cocktail party to welcome the firm’s new summer interns and attendance is mandatory. Charlie hasn’t been home for three days and has lived in the same clothes for all that time, and it is also the anniversary of Mira’s birthday and Charlie wants to the final hours of it with his son. Knowing that his partnership nomination might depend on attendance, he allows Fred to guide him to the party.
This turns out to be a huge error of judgment. Charlie cannot “hold his liquor” at the best of times and usually limits himself accordingly. This night, his resentment at being forced to this party instead of being allowed to go home to his son, the sheer exhaustion of being self-imprisoned in his office for 74 hours, the emotional turmoil of remembering Mira, lower his inhibitions and he drinks too much too quickly. The end result is his speech about guilty, immoral clientswho escape legal consequences because of high-powered law firms such as the one where he works. He’s among friends, so why not? A video of the speech ends up on YouTube and Charlie is fired the next day. No partnership, no job, no raison d’être for Charlie.
What happens to Charlie over next few weeks is the bulk of this story. However, it is told in the non-linear style that is very popular with authors today. There are flashback chapters that fill us in on Charlie’s earlier life, including that fact that he and Zadie were raised by their mom, a single woman who worked as a secretary. Their father was an ultrarich attorney whom she had worked for when she conceived them. Charlie’s motivation in life has been to prove to his biological father that he can succeed and exceed without his help, which was never given or offered. His first priority during this unemployment period is Caleb and spending more time with him. This frees up Zadie to spend more time with her current boyfriend Buck, a landscaper/gardener who has been in her life for a year now.
The strength of this book, in my opinion, is the humor. The author is a native New Yorker, a former financial analyst and corporate lawyer. She knows Charlie’s world very well. It comes through in her writing, which is incredibly authentic, lively and absorbing. Her characters are hilarious one moment and poignant the next. For the most part, she executes this very well. There are a few passages in the story that I found inconsistent with my image of the characters, but not to enough to ruin my pleasure with the book. I especially enjoyed the interactions between Charlie and Zadie.
If you’re looking for something to help you escape for a bit, de-stress from the tumultuous political climate, or to relax during the upcoming holiday season, I think “This Was Not The Plan” might be just the thing. The author’s views on work/family life balance, relationships on all levels – siblings, parent/child, and friends – will give you something to think about. You will have a lot of laughs and no, it does not end the way you think it will.
“This Was Not The Plan” was originally released in February 2016, but I was given a copy of the October 2016 reprint by the publisher, Simon and Schuster, in exchange for an honest review. My rating is 3.75/5.0, based mostly on the humor which is generously dispersed throughout the entire story and that fact that I ended up liking up many of these characters.
Veterans Day: Thank you is useless to those who didn’t make it home and inadequate for those who did. I will show my gratitude by never confusing the valor of those served and did their jobs with the intentions of the politicians who created those war zones. I will inform myself and vote for those who actively support veterans, not just talk about it, and since words are my only weapons, I will write to government officials to fulfill veterans’ needs and give them their due. I’ll be wary of supporting war movies where the actors are paid millions to act heroic while the real heroes are waiting for medical care.
Maggie Gust has been an avid reader all her life. Her past includes working as a teacher, as well as various occupations in the healthcare field. She shares a hometown, Springfield, Illinois, with Abraham Lincoln, but Florida has been her home since 1993. Genealogy, reading, movies and writing are among her favorite activities. She is self-employed and works from her Naples home. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or maggiesbookinblog.com.