Release date: Sept 22, 2020
★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★
QUICK TAKE: A very enjoyable and relatable story of one woman’s metamorphosis from a rigidly controlled life to a free-flying, unpredictable journey. Perfect for fans of Kristan Higgins, Katherine Center, and Colleen Hoover.
SPOILER-FREE REVIEW: A Borrowed Life by Kerry Anne King, which will be published by Lake Union Publishing this fall, is a novel categorized as women’s fiction/modern fiction. The gorgeous cover drew me in, but the storyline – a pastor’s wife finds herself suddenly widowed, and free to make her own life choices for the first time ever – is what kept me hooked.
PLOT RUNDOWN/BASICS: We meet our protagonist, Elizabeth Lightsey, as she quietly prepares for another routine day of being the pastor’s wife. Married to an incredibly strict husband who sees every woman’s role in life as being submissive and the “helper” for her husband, she hides her trashy romance novels and her journals where she writes her innermost thoughts…and then burns them once they’re full to destroy the evidence.
Elizabeth was once just Liz, trapped with neglectful parents – one an alcoholic, one an enabler – and unsure of her own future. She works on sowing her wild oats until she meets Thomas, whose dashing good looks and church-focused charisma sweep her off her feet. They marry quickly when Thomas tells her he is being offered a church to lead and needs “a good wife,” and Liz soon learns that his definition of a good wife is a very narrow, subservient, controlled one. She stays to raise their daughter, and spends the next two-plus decades learning how to control her emotions and keep her true feelings to herself.
When Thomas drops dead in the middle of Elizabeth’s knitting circle, she is horrified and shocked – and, also, unexpectedly, free. Thomas is no longer there to criticize the cleanliness of the floors, or her friendship with her “godless” neighbor Val, or to refuse to allow her to bring pickles into the house. And when Elizabeth needs support, is it the gossipy, judgmental church ladies who come to her rescue? Surprise: it’s Val, her tattooed, smoking, cursing friend, who takes care of Elizabeth when she needs it most.
“She takes the time to make decisions just for herself, refusing to cater to anyone else’s timeline, and that is incredibly refreshing in what could be considered a modern romance novel.”
Elizabeth slowly begins to find herself again – “Liz” has always been inside, she realizes, but she wasn’t allowed to be free under Thomas’s iron fist. Much to her tightly-controlled daughter Abigail’s chagrin, she finds herself auditioning for a role in a local play and accepting when the lead is offered to her. Even as Liz begins to slowly open up to her own wants and desires, she must face alienating her own daughter – whom, she realizes, she raised (along with Thomas) to be afraid of her own true self and to aim for the ultimate goal of being a subservient wife. (Why be a surgeon when you’re just going to be the woman of the house some day, Thomas said? Nursing school is fine until you find a suitable man.)
Liz’s life changes at warp speed as she begins to reconsider her home, her belongings, and her purpose in life…and as she begins to feel very real, and very foreign, sparks of attraction to her leading man in the play. Thomas’s chastising voice never quite leaves her thoughts as she makes one reckless yet freeing decision after another, but when one of her biggest moments of passion backfires, how will she ever be able to find and stay the right course? Will she and her daughter be able to make amends and find a truly loving and open relationship? And what on earth does Liz REALLY want for her own future?
MY THOUGHTS: This was my first book by King, and I was very pleasantly surprised. Her writing style and topics remind me of some of my favorite women’s fiction authors (like the aforementioned Kristan Higgins, Katherine Center, and Colleen Hoover – particularly Hoover’s recent book Regretting You). Liz is an incredibly well-written character; we know her background, and why Thomas would have seemed like an appealing option, even as he began to control every aspect of her life. “And it was easier, safer, to let him make all of the decisions. To tell me who to be and how to be that person. To let him dictate how to raise our daughter, how to spend my time.” (Chapter 31)
Liz’s path to emotional maturity will ring so incredibly true to women who have had to make sacrifices in their lives – for their parents, their partners, their children. Her joys and struggles with her newfound freedom lead her to realize that choices aren’t necessarily right or wrong, damned or blessed – they are just vehicles that get us to the next moment of our lives and determine what new avenues open up. She takes the time to make decisions just for herself, refusing to cater to anyone else’s timeline, and that is incredibly refreshing in what could be considered a modern romance novel. Just because the swoon-worthy, flawed, sexy love interest proposes to you doesn’t mean you have to accept…especially when you’re just beginning to put together the many confusing puzzle pieces of your own life.
I am giving this book a rare 10 stars (for me), because I thoroughly enjoyed the story and the depth of the characters and the relationships within. No character was a shallow, one-dimensional stereotype; there was redemption and disaster for everyone alike. This books celebrates how messy circumstances and troubled relationships can still be beautiful, and life may take different turns that put us in better places than we could ever have previously imagined, even after unspeakable tragedy.