Looking Past by Katharine E. Smith is her second novel. Smith runs Heddon Press a small independent publishing company that has put out several works of fiction and historical fiction.Looking Past past is advertised as a book that will strike a chord with mothers, daughters, and daughter in laws everywhere, and it seems that the author wished to raise that bar by placing a copy in the hands of a Marine.
I read and review a wide range of books but generally stay away from books that fall into the romance or chick-lit category. Looking Past, I am happy to say, avoids both these categories and is a rather engaging fictional memoir. Sarah, the main character and narrator, tells the reader her life story. Although still young, Sarah has much to tell and her life seems to be fairly normal in matters of believability, but interesting nonetheless. We all have events that shape and mold our lives from a young age, and he event that is imprinted on Sarah is the loss of her mother when she was eleven years old. Although she enjoys a close relationship with her father, she does not have that female confidant and mentor she needed while growing up. As a result, Sarah grows to become somewhat socially awkward in high school.
In college, Sarah keeps to a small group of friends and after a rough start has her first serious boyfriend. This is where the real story is told. Sarah’s story is a story of relationships that form around her: Her boyfriend, his mother, her father, and her father’s first love interest since his wife’s death. This is where the book shines. The development and dynamics of the relationships create the interest in the story. I have found that many stories will use sex in one way or another to keep the reader interested, but here the “burning loins” are absent. Any events between consenting adults here are completed with the much classier “screen fading to black” effect of the end of a chapter. It seems very human of Sarah to want to share her life with the reader, but yet wanting to avoid giving too much personal information to a stranger.
Sarah is a likeable, well defined character who plays the role of a fair and reliable narrator. Through Sarah’s telling Looking Past provides an interesting character study and reveals relationships between the different characters and their priorities in life. For some it is career. For others it is family and who is actual qualifies as family. For some it is letting go of the past and living in the present. For some it is discovering what they are really committed to. Smith does an excellent job of creating a complex array of characters, interactions, and priorities. Any thoughts that this book would not hold up to a male reader are unfounded. Historically many female writers have written stories with female lead characters that have been read and enjoyed by all. Perhaps Looking Past will allow some male readers to a see a bit of themselves in the character James, and correct themselves. A great book for all.