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Originally published Sunday, May 25, 2014 at 6:05 AM

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‘The Possibilities’: Losing her son, her baby, her friend

“The Possibilities,” a new novel by “The Descendants” author Kaui Hart Hemmings, tells the story of the heartbreak and eventual healing undergone by the single mother of a beloved only son.

Special to The Seattle Times


‘The Possibilities’

by Kaui Hart Hemmings

Simon and Schuster, 274 pp., $25

In “The Possibilities,” Kaui Hart Hemmings returns to the turf of “The Descendants” — the messy beauty of families — in a markedly different locale.

Whereas “The Descendants” is set on the Hawaiian islands, “The Possibilities” takes place in Breckenridge, Colo. (Hemmings was born in Hawaii and went to college in Colorado.)

Lifelong Breckenridge resident Sarah St. John narrates her story with wry, honest reflections on unattained dreams, friendship and, mainly, parenthood. She is grieving the recent death, at 21, of her son, Cully, in an avalanche. Handsome, with an easygoing charisma, he’d moved back home after college graduation and was parking cars in a hotel while figuring out his next move.

Sarah was a college senior when she gave birth to Cully, the result of a summer fling with sweet, sexy Billy, who remained a part of their lives. Looking back at Cully’s infancy, she recalls: “At times he was such jarring cargo, especially when he was first born and I was only twenty-one. He felt like a school project, the egg I was supposed to carry around and not ever leave or break.”

But he grew to be an adored and loving only child raised by single parent Sarah, who herself had been raised by a single dad, Lyle, after the death of Sarah’s mother.

Lyle, 73, lives with Sarah and is a wise, funny presence. He’s hooked on shopping on QVC and long retired from his resort job, but still brimming with ideas for its improvement. Grandson Cully had been his snowboarding and pool-playing buddy.

As “The Possibilities” opens, Sarah is having a rough time attempting to return to work as the co-host of a local TV show for tourists.

The job calls for a sunny on-air persona, which she’d long mustered with ease, but after Cully’s death she’s “become stormy and difficult, mean and sad,” wondering “how it’s possible that your son, your baby, your friend, was here in December and now he is not.”

Cleaning Cully’s room with her brassy best friend Suzanne brings a mixture of healing and sorrow: “It’s a childhood room vacated, then returned to as a resting stop. A bed, two side tables, his desk and computer, a stack of books from college, mainly geology texts. In his walk-in closet are the things I kept for him — old report cards and art projects, painted handprints, pictures of us, his life curated by me.”

But a discovery in Cully’s room throws into doubt how well Sarah knew him, as does the arrival of a young woman, Kit, who is a recent friend of Cully’s.

Kit gives Sarah a calendar that belonged to Cully, and in a heartbreaking scene Sarah traces over his handwriting with her finger.

“The Possibilities” culminates with a road trip by Sarah, Lyle, Billy, Suzanne and Kit to a memorial for Cully. It feels good to be along for the ride.

Agnes Torres Al-Shibibi is a Seattle Times desk editor.

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