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We All Want Impossible Things

Review

We All Want Impossible Things

It is not quite right to say that WE ALL WANT IMPOSSIBLE THINGS is about finding joy in the process of death. But there are so many moments of pure joy, both for the characters and the readers, in Catherine Newman’s first novel for adults. This is the story of a death, the grief and loss of one woman, and the circle of good humans that makes it all possible to bear.

Ashley’s lifelong best friend, Edith, is dying of cancer. When the experts at Sloane-Kettering reach the end of the care they can provide, Ash and Edi’s husband, Jude, decide to move her to a hospice in the small western Massachusetts town where Ash lives. This means that Edi and Jude’s young son, Dash, doesn’t have to witness his mother’s decline and suffering as Ash takes on the bulk of the support and caregiving. The novel moves through late winter weeks as Ash wears a path between Edi’s bedside and her home. These two poles pull her physically and emotionally as she tries to avoid the philosophical and metaphysical questions that Edi’s imminent death presents.

"A tender, raucous, heart-wrenching, laugh-out-loud, thoughtful and honest exploration of friendship, life and death, WE ALL WANT IMPOSSIBLE THINGS is a gutsy and promising entrée to adult contemporary fiction for Newman."

Separated from her loving but slightly clueless husband, Honey, Ash falls into bed with a handful of supporting and minor characters. She finds only temporary succor and contentment in these trysts and is forced to contemplate the meaning of partnership, loyalty and compromise. Both helping and making things more complicated is Ash and Honey’s teenage daughter, Bella, who often provides a wise and occasionally absurdist Greek chorus-esque commentary. Jules, the eldest daughter of the family, is away at college through most of the book, creating yet another tug on Ash’s heartstrings.

Edi’s end of life at the hospice sometimes reads like the darkest of sitcoms replete with misunderstandings and pratfalls. But this is Ash’s perspective, one in which she is either distracting herself from Edi’s pain (and her own) or holding it as close as she holds Edi’s failing body. There is music here, good food, lots of booze and sex, illicit cigarettes, legal weed and comforting cats. There are other deaths, and the somehow spot-on Fiddler on the Roof soundtrack always seems to be playing. There are swollen limbs, dehydration and chapped lips, PEG tubes, and tears that turn to laughter and then back again. It is truly a love story and a story of all kinds of love.

Ash is a textbook example of “her own worst enemy,” but her fantastic (if slightly fantastical in their patience, beauty and wit) crew of family and friends do their best to keep her tethered. She is also an ideal friend and tends to Edi through exhaustion and the fears that threaten her. This is a novel of feelings and responses over action. Edi’s life is ending, Ash’s world is shrinking, and Newman’s focus is laser sharp.

At barely over 200 pages, the book manages to pack in a lifetime of friendship and a dying-time of sorrow. Newman’s narrative voice is a charming, delightfully dark gallows humor. It is a humor that she has Ash wield in her fight against loss. Still, that loss is inevitable. She and her family and friends rally around to honor Edi and look toward a future that is without her but one in which she is always still there.

A tender, raucous, heart-wrenching, laugh-out-loud, thoughtful and honest exploration of friendship, life and death, WE ALL WANT IMPOSSIBLE THINGS is a gutsy and promising entrée to adult contemporary fiction for Newman.

Reviewed by Sarah Rachel Egelman on November 11, 2022

We All Want Impossible Things
by Catherine Newman

  • Publication Date: November 8, 2022
  • Genres: Fiction, Humor, Women's Fiction
  • Hardcover: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Harper
  • ISBN-10: 0063230895
  • ISBN-13: 9780063230897