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Tomorrow There Will Be Sun

Review

Tomorrow There Will Be Sun

Jenna Carlson is on the vacation of a lifetime, and she’s miserable. The 40-something writer has spent months planning the perfect trip for her husband Peter’s 50th birthday. The couple and their 16-year-old daughter Clem (short for Clementine) are spending the week at Villa Azul Paraiso, an Instagram-perfect oceanfront villa in Puerto Vallarta. With them are Peter’s business partner Solly, his much younger second wife Ingrid, and their five-year-old son Ivan. Also along for the trip is Malcolm, Solly’s teenage son from his first marriage.

Jenna is a YA author, and one source of her misery is the unfinished, two-months-past-due manuscript of her fourth book. The file for the novel “has become like a virus on my desktop,” she says, something she’s afraid to even confront. Plus, she’s still reeling from her stage 1 breast cancer diagnosis. Though she has finished treatment, the incident has changed her perspective, and now “these seven days are high-value days. Every minute counts double, triple, even.”

There’s a lot riding on this trip, to put it mildly, and high-strung Jenna --- who considers a “six-month lead time” for planning a vacation “nothing short of reckless procrastination” --- wants to ensure that everything is perfect. So naturally, things almost immediately begin to go awry in small yet still annoying ways. Clem is glued to her phone, more interested in FaceTiming with her boyfriend back home than admiring the view. Peter is fielding suspicious calls from his “gorgeous, needy young assistant” Gavriella. Ingrid wants the insecure Jenna to take a look at the manuscript of her own novel in progress. And a tormenta is brewing out to sea, threatening rain in paradise.

"It’s a testament to Reinhardt’s skill as a writer that she turns her cast of potentially unlikable characters into people we care about."

If these all sound like #richpeopleproblems, well, they are, at least to a degree. Cancer diagnosis aside, Jenna can’t seem to appreciate her good fortune. And she seems determined to torpedo any potential happiness, picking fights with her husband, secretly reading her daughter’s texts, resenting Ingrid for being so perfect, and wondering if Solly, with a “powerful brew of his charisma and confidence and intelligence and sense of humor,” might be having another affair.

Dana Reinhardt’s adult debut (she’s also the author of several young adult novels) is breezy and entertaining, the kind of book designed to be enjoyed while lounging poolside on your own dream vacation. But it’s a beach read with a flinty core. Look past the endless margaritas and swaying palm trees, and you have the story of a middle-aged woman coming to terms with the life she’s built for herself.

It’s a testament to Reinhardt’s skill as a writer that she turns her cast of potentially unlikable characters into people we care about. She brings Jenna’s secret fears to life in vivid detail --- her anxiety over her work, her worries about her daughter, the niggling doubts she has about her husband. Clem turns out to be more than just a bratty, spoiled teenager. Ingrid at first appears to be a shallow caricature of a certain kind of wealthy Los Angeles housewife, a woman with perfectly pedicured toenails who still lets her kindergarten-age son share her bed and questions the villa’s staff about whether the traditional Mexican pottery is lead-free. But that’s just Jenna’s narrow view of her, and in the end, Ingrid is revealed to be more complex than she initially appears.

It turns out that, like most writers, Jenna is a sharp observer of other people’s lives, but she’s not as good at looking critically at herself. This leads to some jarring revelations as the novel progresses, especially once an outbreak of cartel violence confines everyone to the villa, creating a hothouse atmosphere that’s ripe for confrontation. (That the very real problem of drug-related crime in Mexico is positioned mostly as an inconvenience that disrupts the vacation of these privileged Americans is one of the less appealing aspects of the book.)

“You think you know everything,” Clem tells her mother. “You think you have it all figured out. But you’re wrong.” Eventually, Jenna discovers just how wrong she is about certain things, which prompts her to take stock of her own life. As her not-so-idyllic vacation comes to an end, she finds herself longing to return home to “the only place where we can discover if the pieces of our lives can be put back together, if everything still fits.”

Reviewed by Megan Elliott on March 15, 2019

Tomorrow There Will Be Sun
by Dana Reinhardt

  • Publication Date: March 12, 2019
  • Genres: Fiction, Women's Fiction
  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Pamela Dorman Books
  • ISBN-10: 0525557962
  • ISBN-13: 9780525557968