The Season of Second Chances, by Diane Meier

by Rebeca on May 28, 2010

The Season of Second Chances: A Novel
By Diane Meier
Henry Holt and Company
304 pages
List Price: $25; Amazon Price: $16.50

[Editor’s note: Review written for Dan’s Papers]

If you’re in the market to remodel your home and need interior decorating ideas, Diane Meier’s The Season of Second Chances might be the book for you.

Schlubby and reserved, Columbia University English literature Professor Joy Harkness is not a happy woman. Readers learn via Joy’s narration that life in New York City and teaching at an Ivy League school has been a disappointment. When she is offered a prestigious and lucrative teaching position at Amherst College, Joy immediately accepts to be part of a group of progressive instructors who are developing an exciting new method of interdisciplinary teaching.

With her new job offer in hand, Joy sells her cramped Riverside Drive apartment, moves to western Massachusetts, and buys a rundown Victorian house that needs a major overhaul both inside and out. To help with the renovation, Joy hires Teddy Hennessy, a talented, but developmentally delayed handyman who is an expert on 19th century architecture, interior design and décor, and who later becomes Joy’s lover.

As the renovation of the house beautifully progresses, Joy also goes through her own transformation; she becomes less introverted and socializes more than she has in years, and grudgingly acknowledges the emotional benefits of friendship. However, in spite of the positive changes in her life, Joy feels on many occasions put upon by her new-found friends’ personal predicaments.

Meier wonderfully portrays Joy as woman who is an intellectual snob, but who is also angry, negative, and guarded. It’s these traits that easily put off the reader, but Meier skillfully softens Joy with humor and insight, and it’s in her moments of concern over Teddy’s potential future and his well-being that one finally warms up to Joy.

However, readers will have to suspend disbelief when it comes to the character of Teddy Hennessy, the man-child handyman who is enslaved by his widowed mother’s narcissistic needs, but who has a flair with paint, wall paper, and wiring. Teddy is an architectural genius with keen eye for detail and refined taste in décor. Yet what Teddy lacks is the maturity of a grown man, and Meier adds adolescent clichés to the character from the way he speaks to the way he dresses. Although Joy and Teddy are the primary characters, it’s the ramshackle Victorian that steals the story with it glorious renaissance. Meier lovingly illustrates Teddy’s sense of style:

He painted the little room sage green with the same creamy white paint on the trim and wainscoting that ran through the rest of the house. He hung a plain craft-paper window shade on the one long window and painted the shade’s bottom hem and irregular line of daubed-on sage green dots. An old wooden desk chair from a consignment shop was painted green … On the far side of the room sat my old bookshelves, now divided into four sections chair-rail high; Teddy had screwed them together, added a top and some moldings, and painted them the same color as the wainscoting behind them.

It’s in these descriptive scenes of home décor in which Meier truly shines, and perhaps it should come as no surprise because the author is the founder of a New York City marketing firm whose clients have included luxury icons such as Limoges China, Orrefors Crystal, and Neiman Marcus.

The heart of The Season of Second Chances is that it’s never too late to build a strong and lasting foundation among the people you’ve come to trust and love. It takes Joy several months to learn this important lesson and when she receives the symbolic whack on the side of her head, she finally grasps the need to change her attitude and that friendship has much to offer, or as she’s told, “there’s the family you’re born with and then there is the family you choose.” Good advice to take to heart-with some decorating tips.

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