This past weekend I finished reading a book by Thea Goodman, The Sunshine When She's Gone. I came across this book while perusing the new releases at the library. It is about a young couple living in New York with a new baby. Clara, the baby, has slept through the night for the first time in her short life and her father John decides to take her to the diner down the street for breakfast so that her mother may sleep in. The diner is closed and instead of returning home John heads to JFK airport and flies with Clara to Barbados.

Upon awakening, Clara's mother Veronica realizes that she has done something that she has not in a very long time, slept until 8am. Her day proceeds in alternating states of panic and indulgence as she flip flops between worrying about her husband and baby and enjoying the much needed time for herself. In Barbados John checks himself into a hotel, feeds Clara cow's milk, which he realizes makes her sick and begins a journey to find the herb infused goat milk that Veronica feeds Clara. John makes the acquaintance of Derek, a cab driver who taxis him around the island on his quest. Veronica in New York has dinner with friends, tries to work and get a hold of John who has eventually left her a message stating he is at his mother's house.

John ends up almost getting a concussion, Veronica ends up engaging in infidelity and Clara, although a bit sick and feverish by the end seems all right. The climax of the story occurs when Veronica and John are back home and see each other face to face for the first time in several days. Veronica knows she has been lied to, John figures out he has been cheated on. There is a pause in the story. This pause is the hardest part. Thea Goodman had the opportunity to write something real at this point in the story, but it would have been much more challenging then what she had already put together. Her characters were caricatures without much depth, but this moment of conflict gave the possibility for something more. This moment when John and Veronica have to confront, not just the mistakes they made, but also the life they made could have been profound. It is clear that neither character thought very much about what they were doing or why and neither were all that satisfied with the lives they led. And yet, somehow after a pause in the story, Goodman writes a happy ending. All is tied up, John is on his way to the diner with Clara for breakfast and makes it there, Veronica even considers going too. They are reconstructed as a happy family, but without the story, the process of healing, without the hardest part. 

I suppose I found most of the book entertaining and maybe this would have been enough if Goodman could have found a better way to end it, but the dismissal of even an attempt to write what in life is what makes living rich and meaningful -working through conflict, living reflectively and changing - makes this book fall short of even being a satisfyingly entertaining read. Goodman touched on issues of power, privilege and difference, but like her characters remains a safe distance from having to address any of this. As John exits Derek's cab at the airport in Barbados, Derek says maybe he will one day visit John in New York. John does give Derek his phone number, but on arriving home does not answer the phone. There is more to investigate here, but I think that like her characters Thea Goodman is avoiding the hardest part by pausing, instead of diving into what could be a deep and meaningful look at how many live and why.