Book Review: ‘It Started in June’ by Susan Kietzman

Susan Kietzman is a Connecticut native who makes her home in Mystic. She has a bachelor’s degree in English from Connecticut College and a master’s degree in journalism from Boston University. Before embracing fiction full-time, Kietzman wrote in other capacities: newspaper journalist, corporate wordsmith, museum fundraiser; she also taught English and public speaking at two community colleges. Her debut novel, The Good Life, was published in 2013. Her fifth title, It Started in June (Kensington), hit bookshelves last month.

Susan Kietzman_2017

As the story opens, we meet ambitious career woman Grace Trumbull, whose star is on the rise at the media relations firm where she’s recently been promoted. A divorcee, Grace lives in a charming house on the water and has forsaken frivolity for single-minded focus. This all changes when she is tasked with collaborating with Bradley Hanover, a popular and studly underling, on a new project. Though initially a bit hesitant, Grace is immediately impressed by Bradley’s efforts to impress—so much so that she agrees to have a drink with him after a late night at the office. One drink becomes one too many, and they end up having sex in the back of Grace’s Cadillac. The consequence of this indiscretion is sobering: pregnancy.

In an instant, Grace’s carefully guarded personal and professional lives are on the brink of implosion. And while any unexpected pregnancy is (or can be) cause for panic, Grace’s past renders her circumstances uniquely complex. Not only was she conceived in the exact same manner, resulting in an eventual estrangement from her mother, but her first marriage dissolved when she wouldn’t commit to having a child with her then-husband. Why, then, does she suddenly feel like becoming a mother—and a potentially single one, at that—holds a certain and undeniable appeal? (That she wants to prove herself a better parent than her own mother is one answer, but not the answer.)

Bradley, too, is thrown into a vortex of conflicting desires—though Grace has provided him the opportunity to pardon himself from their baby’s life without repercussion or responsibility. But is that what he really wants? The fact that his connection with Grace has quickly superseded all of his prior relationships leads him to believe that he may be ready to leave bachelorhood behind and become a respectable family man. His mother (a psychiatrist) and best friend caution him against this, however, fearing that he may not fully comprehend the lifelong ramifications of having a child with a woman he’s only just met.

It’s not a spoiler to say that Grace does decide to keep the baby, nor is it one to acknowledge that Bradley commits to an active involvement. And while there’s an initial exuberance at the newness of everything, there are also the inevitable stressors as a romanticized reality becomes a real reality. For instance, Grace is surprised by how quickly their baby redefines her aspirations, while Bradley becomes jealous that he’s no longer the sole focus of Grace’s attention and affection. This is not an uncommon occurrence in parenthood, but one that Bradley has trouble remedying, given his youthful vitality and need for physical intimacy. (If these characterizations sound stereotypical, it’s because Kietzman plays to those before transcending them.)

It Started In June

The author excels at both depicting human drama and emotion and exploring it from multiple perspectives. Here, Kietzman not only highlights the external manifestations of such angst but the deeply-rooted internal ones. Consequently, there’s as much inner debate and dialogue as there is reciprocity among characters—and while that can border on tedious, it’s also perfectly illustrative of how we habitually analyze things ad nauseam when on the cusp of making life-changing decisions (or even mundane ones).

Kietzman also brings attention to what it’s like to be a woman in the workforce, and the myriad considerations that result—everything from how to speak and what to wear to when to demure and whom to fraternize with. These are still factors that go largely unnoticed and/or underappreciated by men, though the #MeToo movement has initiated progress and (hopefully) some level of prescience. Kietzman’s delivery is subtle rather than sanctimonious, and serves the story well, adding nuance to a narrative that is both timely and timeless.

It Started in June is a worthy addition to the author’s catalog. Though touted as women’s (or domestic) fiction, it’s really a story of discovery and devotion—to oneself, and to others—that endeavors to understand and empathize with both its conflicted characters, regardless of their gender. Susan Kietzman writes with wisdom and grace, asking big questions, debating the answers, and ultimately reminding us that life is many things at once, not the least of which is complicated.

 

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