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July 23, 2009

Sundays at Tiffany’s – by James Patterson and Gabrielle Charbonnet, a book review

The magic of childhood fantasy meets the reality of adulthood in James Patterson’s book, co-written with Gabrielle Charbonnet,  Sundays at Tiffany’s.

In addition to the catchy title (notably similar to a 1958 novella-turned-movie), I was hooked in the very first sentence.

I’ve read several of Patterson’s books within the last few years and am continually impressed at his range of creativity. Unlike so many famous authors who find themselves stuck in a “niche” – mystery, horror, romance, etc, Patterson demonstrates a unique talent to jump smoothly from one genre to another, perhaps partly due to his willingness to partner up with other authors.

Sundays at Tiffany’s begins with Jane Margaux, the nearly-nine-year-old daughter of a rich, pre-occupied mother and absentee father, and her best  friend, Michael.

The trouble with Michael, however, is that Jane is the only one who can see him! Jane’s world is far from ordinary but she copes with the help of Michael’s unconditional love, acceptance, and friendship.

Her mother, Vivienne, who insists Jane call her by her first name instead of ‘mom’, is a famous Broadway writer who barely notices her daughter except to criticize her eating habits and appearance.

Jane’s world comes crashing down on her ninth birthday, when her mother forgets, her father goes to Nantucket with his young girlfriend, and Michael tells her he has to leave:

“Jane, the thing is, I’ll never be back again. I don’t have a choice in this, it’s a rule”. Just saying the words made him feel worse than he ever had. Jane was special . She was different. He didn’t know why: he just knew she was. For the first time, the rule about when to leave a child struck Michael as stupid and unfair. He would rather have died than cause Jane this much pain. But it was true he had no choice. He never had.

 Only the first chapter is written from the child Jane’s point of view – the next skips forward twenty-three years – Jane is now 32 years old and reaping the success of her own Broadway play, Thank Heaven, which is based on her childhood imaginary relationship with Michael (whom she was supposed to have forgotten about the morning after he left her).

Unbeknownst to her, Michael also has never been able to forget Jane.  He’s been imaginary friend to many children since Jane but when he catches sight of her one day in New York, he is torn between letting her go and breaking all the rules to meet her for the first time as an adult.

In a scene reminiscent of City of Angel’s, Michael finds himself unable to walk away from Jane’s life once again:

Then I noticed something else. I squinted, feeling my heart instantly kick into high speed. It was completely, totally, utterly impossible. Of course I was wrong – but I would have sworn it was Michael.  Was I going off the deep end? How bad off was I that I thought I had seen Michael?  Michael, who was imaginary.  Michael, who didn’t exist.

  Jane is about to find that Michael really does exist, and she’s falling in love with him!

But the question remains: Why has fate allowed him back in her life? And what if it decides he has to leave again?

 The book is written in the first person narrative from Jane’s point of view and in the third person limited from Michael’s. The author’s manage to pull this off without confusion or that sense of scatter ness which some books written this way seem to have.  It also validates Jane’s sensibility; being inside her head allows the reader to understand her quick acceptance of Michael’s reappearance life without making her seem crazy.  

 I love how this book takes the inconceivable and makes it seem possible. It’s not a science-fiction or fantasy novel, nor is it a common romance. While it has aspects of these genres, it’s actually hard put this book into one category.

This unlikely pairing of authors (Charbonnet is an accomplished children’s writer) teams up beautifully to fuse illusion with reality.  They offer up enough explanation to make Michael’s existence seem plausible, but not so much as to ruin the mystery of imaginary friendships.

If you’re looking for a hard-to-put-down, easy read, look for Sundays at Tiffany’s.

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