“Kismet: A Novel”

“Kismet: A Novel”

by Becky Chalsen


Banner from a recent book signing event in Kismet, for “Kismet.” Photo by Beth Batkiewicz.

“Kismet,” a first novel from film and TV executive Becky Chalsen, benefits from her  decades of summering on Fire Island. She handily lays out the sandy terrain that calls up cocktails and volleyball where it’s party time all the time.

It’s the Fourth of July weekend at the Sharp family beach house. Amy and Jo are celebrating their 30th birthday, and Jo and Dave are getting married. Have a look at her snazzy, white silk, one-shouldered bridal jumpsuit! But will Jo ever get to zip it up? What with all the un-festive, pre-wedding dramas playing out, there’s more than one fly in the wedding soup.

Amy, our narrator, is “sister-in-chief”/maid of honor and married to Ben. But she doesn’t seem very sweet on her high school sweetheart. He tries to help her unpack; she refuses his help. He makes to touch her; she draws away. Her thoughts reach back to an “awful night” weeks ago, while his cautious, “Be careful,” and “Should you be lifting?” set me wondering if she was pregnant? But I had little time to linger on that thought because here came Emmet, Amy’s college crush.

Emmet, handsome charmer, dreamer/drifter, whom Amy hoped never to set eyes on again. What is he doing at Jo’s wedding? He’s the best man, that’s what, and the old chemistry is back. The attraction so steamy, they can’t keep their hands off each other. Pair that with Amy’s married-with-problems status, and you have a woman on the verge, wondering if she chose the wrong mate. And … filled with guilt when Ben cooks up a surprise beach picnic for two. How could she even consider being with another man? The gal’s got a lot on her mind.

Detailed to a fault – think three binders of wedding notes – it has always been Amy who looked after things and held it all together. Jo, a writer, is “better with paragraphs than with plans.” Twins, they’ve shared everything, taking up the other’s slack whenever needed, but for the last few weeks, instead of opening their hearts to each other, they answer questions with er, yes, and buts. Is there trouble in twindom? Or is the bride-to-be not to be? Jo’s old, loser boyfriend has been texting. Is that why she wants to go home? To him? Is she about to have a romance redo like sis?

Will they or won’t they? Chalsen keeps readers guessing with questions aplenty and answers in short supply. But mom has some answers (don’t they always?).

At a sit-down with Amy, she gives daughter some well-needed bolstering when she confesses the mistake she almost made with another man while things were less than lovey-dovey between her and Amy’s dad. Marriage doesn’t run on an even path, councils mom. But it’s a road worth working on.

What’s a wedding without in-laws? Dave’s parents are doozies. 

Conrad: “It’s a whirlwind wedding, Val. (Jo and Dave have known each other six months.) “Might as well go for a whirl.”

Val: “I don’t whirl.” 

But it’s their “breakup” and “mismatch” Amy overhears that sets her fretting about Jo and Dave. Are the in-laws referring to them? The author doesn’t let on till a surprise reveal chapters down the road – nice going, Chalsen. Not wanting to burden Jo, Amy is mum on it too. But in an affecting scene between them, the long-held hurts and resentments they’ve been holding in for years surface, and help heal the rift between them.

At its center, the story is about sisterhood, but it’s also about relationships and how they fare through the years. How the past morphs into the present and how we navigate that often rocky terrain. Chalsen uses Amy’s college journal as an effective means to let readers in on the goings on between her and Emmet back then. But I didn’t need the in-depth backstory about the childhood friendship of the Amy/Jo/Ben triumvirate. And for my part, Amy’s therapist Gina wasn’t needed; she didn’t add anything to the story.

Emmet, however, is essential, the nuptials seeming like a lost cause when he, hammered – nothing charming about him now – lets fly his best man toast. A tell-all about his time with Amy, past and present, threatening the whole wedding to fall headfirst on its hors d’oeuvres.

Does anyone get to say “I do, or “I don’t”?

All I can say is, if “Kismet” means kismet, dress casually; no gifts necessary. Your good wishes will do.