The Life Intended by Kristen Harmel

By Ekta R. Garg

December 31, 2014

Rated: Bypass it

At the start of a new relationship, a young widow begins to have vivid dreams about her dead husband. The dreams make the woman begin to doubt her decision to get married again. They also make her question some parts of her current career and lead her to a new dimension of her work. Kristin Harmel gives readers this plot in the somewhat touching but mostly lopsided novel The Life Intended.

Kate Waithman has spent the last 12 years mourning her husband. His death in an accident left her reeling, and in some ways she still hasn’t regained her balance in life. Still, life has moved on without her. At some point she meets Dan, and she lets him in to her life and her heart. Or so she thinks.

When Dan proposes Kate accepts with some reservation. She can’t forget Patrick, her first husband, and soon after agreeing to marry Dan the memories get stronger. Kate begins having vivid dreams about Patrick. The dreams, however, aren’t about times past. They’re about Kate’s present—an alternate present in which Patrick is alive and he and Kate have a child.

The dreams shock Kate and they make her miss Patrick. When she receives the news that she can’t have children, Kate feels an ache for the daughter in her dreams. Dan, her new fiancé, feels indifferent toward children, but Kate’s diagnosis and her dream child make her want them. These differences and her dreams increase Kate’s stress. When a new friend introduces her to a different element of her career, Kate starts questioning all of her life choices.

Author Harmel gives readers a story that, to an extent, is touching. Kate’s grief and loss ring true, exhibiting the loss of normalcy a person experiences when a spouse dies at a young age. Because Harmel chose to use the first person point of view for the book, however, Kate’s grief becomes a liability about a third of the way through the story. Readers never get to spend time with other characters, and as a result the only ideas and thoughts that take precedence are Kate’s.

Dan, her new fiancé, comes across as a stock character, the jerk who doesn’t care about her personal desires or professional goals. The memories of Patrick reveal an ideal, almost saintly, husband who puts Kate’s feelings ahead of his own. The other supporting characters fall into line, revealing nothing new or interesting. As a result the book comes across as heavy on emotion and light on feeling.

Kate’s dreams, while intriguing at first, soon morph into one long boring diatribe. Every dream follows exactly the same pattern, and all of them start and end with heavy-handed descriptions of Kate’s grief. In those moments when she should revel in the “return” of her husband, all she can think about is how he isn’t a part of her life anymore.

The one redeeming factor comes in the form of Kate’s work as a music therapist. Unfortunately her career in its positivity sticks out as an unnatural portion of the book; Kate finds some solace in her work but doesn’t find it anywhere else. Because she spends so much time thinking about Patrick and her dreams, the career portions of the story feel light on heft and importance.

I would recommend readers Bypass The Life Intended.

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