The Bright Side of Disaster: A Novel

( 53 )


Sometimes the worst thing that can happen is exactly what you’ve been waiting for.

Very pregnant and not quite married, Jenny Harris doesn’t mind that she and her live-in fiancé, Dean, accidentally started their family a little earlier than planned. But Dean is acting distant, and the night he runs out for cigarettes and doesn’t come back, he demotes himself from future husband to sperm donor. And the very next day, Jenny goes into labor.

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Sometimes the worst thing that can happen is exactly what you’ve been waiting for.

Very pregnant and not quite married, Jenny Harris doesn’t mind that she and her live-in fiancé, Dean, accidentally started their family a little earlier than planned. But Dean is acting distant, and the night he runs out for cigarettes and doesn’t come back, he demotes himself from future husband to sperm donor. And the very next day, Jenny goes into labor.

In the months that follow, Jenny plunges into a life she never anticipated: single motherhood. At least with the sleep deprivation, sore boobs, and fits of crying (both hers and the baby’s), there’s not much time to dwell on her broken heart. And things are looking up: Jenny learns how to do everything one-handed, makes friends in a mommy group, and even gets to know a handsome, helpful neighbor. But Dean is never far from Jenny’s thoughts or, it turns out, her doorstep, and in the end she must choose between the old life she thought she wanted and the new life she’s been lucky to find.

“Beautifully penned and truly memorable . . . a heartwarming and deeply emotional debut.”

The Bright Side of Disaster is a treat of a book. It is so warm, so smart, so touching, so wise–and, despite its poignancy, you read the whole thing with a laugh in your throat.”
–Anna Maxted, author of A Tale of Two Sisters

“Novels as polished and mature as The Bright Side of Disaster just don’t come along very often from first-time novelists or, for that matter, from those with much longer résumés. . . . This story of a youthful-but-optimistic single mom rings bittersweet and utterly authentic.”
–The Dallas Morning News

“A funny and poignant novel about love, motherhood and men . . . elevates the subject matter beyond the realm of ‘mommy lit.’ ”
–Houston Chronicle

Don’t miss the reading group guide in the back of the book.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780345497963
  • Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 4/8/2008
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 256
  • Sales rank: 342,339
  • Product dimensions: 5.23 (w) x 7.95 (h) x 0.62 (d)

Meet the Author

Katherine Center graduated from Vassar College, where she won the Vassar College Fiction Prize, and received an MA in fiction from the University of Houston. She served as fiction co-editor for the literary magazine Gulf Coast, and her graduate thesis, Peepshow, a collection of stories, was a finalist for the Mary McCarthy Prize in Short Fiction. A former freelance writer and teacher, she lives in Houston with her husband and two young children.

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Read an Excerpt


The end began with a plane crash. Just before midnight on a Tuesday in February. A girl I’d never met or even heard of died, along with her miniature dachshund (under the seat) and a planeload of passengers in the kind of commuter plane I’ll never fly in again. I’ve pictured it a hundred times now: the quiet hum of the motor, the sleeping passengers, the sudden jolt, the cabin steward thrown sideways before he could finish his instructions. In my mind, it always looks like a movie, because I have nothing else to go on.

That night, I was asleep, safe on the ground, miles away in Texas in my hand-me-down bed, nestled under a patchwork quilt made out of ties from the seventies.

Since getting pregnant, I fell asleep before the double digits. It was something my not-quite-yet-husband, Dean, teased me about. He was a night owl. And I had been one, too. These days, a month before my due date, I was in bed with my swollen ankles up on pillows as soon as the dishes were done. He was out in the living room with his headphones on, likely playing air guitar.

In a slightly different situation, I would have heard about the crash on the news and thought no more about it. I am sure that girl meant many things to many people. And though I didn’t know it at the time, and I would not have recognized her if she’d knocked on my door, she meant a lot to me as well—in a roundabout kind of way.

The day Dean came home from the office with the news, I’d been out in the garage for hours pricing things with little orange stickers. I’d quit my job at a fancy antiques store a few weeks back at the urging of the owner. She knew I was planning to quit after the baby came, but she decided it didn’t make sense to wait. She took me aside one morning and said that I was, simply, too big. “When you can knock over a piece of Stickley with your belly,” she said, “it’s time to call it a day.” She gave me some coupons for a mani-pedi, promised she’d always give me her dealer discount, and nudged me out the door.

So I was home. And planning our upcoming garage sale with checklists, spreadsheets, and a color-coded map of my yard. At thirty-six weeks and counting, what else was I going to do with myself?

When Dean walked in with a pizza, I was slumped over the aqua dinette in our kitchen, drinking orange juice and trying for an end-of-the- day rally. He popped open a beer and swigged down about half of it. His tie was wrinkled. Really wrinkled, like it’d been on the floor of his car for days before he’d discovered it. I wondered if it would be my job to see to such things when we were married.

He pulled two plates out of the cupboard, and just as I was thinking how much I loved it when Dean brought me pizza, they slid right out of his grip and shattered on the floor.

“Fuck!” he shouted. “Fuck!” He turned and slammed his palm against the cabinet.

I didn’t say anything. After five years with him, I knew to lay low. My best friend, Meredith, and I called these moments “occasional eruptions of inappropriate rage.” They were, you might say, a part of his charm.

He pressed his head against the cabinets, and I set about picking up. I had to bend over my belly to reach the shards, which made great clanks as they hit the metal bottom of the garbage can. When I went for the broom, he moved to his chair and sat down. Then he said, “A girl from work died last night.”

“Died?” I said. “How?”

“Plane crash.”

“Big plane or little plane?” I asked.

“Puddle jumper,” he said.

I finished sweeping and leaned the broom against the counter. “Who was it?” I asked, sitting down.

“Just a girl. She worked in graphics.” He lifted a slice of pizza and took a tentative bite, as if it might not go down well.

“Was she somebody you knew?” I asked.

“Yeah,” he said, mouth full. “I definitely knew her.” Her cubicle was around the corner from his, and she—her name was Tara—used to stop in and say hi. She had worked there for a year. She had been planning to come see his band.

We chewed for a while. Then, not sure what else to say, I shook my head and said, “I thought plane crashes only happened to people on the news.”

“Well,” he said. “She’s on the news now.”

After dinner, we sat out on the porch swing, as we did many nights. Our house was in one of the few historic neighborhoods in Houston that hadn’t been bulldozed for townhomes or mini-malls. By some mystery, folks in our neighborhood were restoring their houses instead of replacing them. Living here was like living in another place in time.

On good nights, we’d go on talking after dinner. But tonight he kept quiet, nursing beer number three. He was holding the memo they’d passed out at work with details about the funeral and where to send donations. It had this girl Tara’s picture on it.

She was Asian, with shiny straight hair and kissy lips. The picture was from her company ID photo, but even so, she was smiling as if the guy who’d taken the photo had been flirting with her. She certainly seemed very alive. And she was the kind of pretty that wasn’t up for discussion.

“She’s pretty,” I said, looking over his arm.

“You think so?”

“Dean,” I said, giving him a look that said, Come on. At the time, a little lie like that seemed sweet to me. I assumed he was trying to be a good fiancé by pretending not to know she was pretty. Like he only had eyes for me. “Yes,” I said. “She’s pretty.”

“Was,” he said.


I tried to start up some other conversation after that. I told him that Meredith had bought a leash for her cat. I told him about a report I’d heard on a hurricane in the Gulf. I told him I’d heard a woman singing a version of “Hush Little Baby” on the gospel radio station that afternoon, and the sound had brought tears to my eyes. But the words came out of my mouth and fizzled like sparks before they hit the ground.

Some nights were like this, when Dean just couldn’t rise to the conversational challenge. Meredith said he was moody, which was true. But we all had our shortcomings. Still, if we weren’t going to talk, I wished he would rub my neck, or hold my hand. But he didn’t.

Dean wanted to take a shower, so I followed him inside. I put on my don’t mess with texas maternity nightshirt before I headed into the kitchen to clean up, and when I got there, I noticed the girl’s picture was on the fridge. Dean had put it up with butterfly magnets, one placed in each corner. Very few things on our overloaded fridge merited more than one magnet. Not our list of frequently called numbers, not the picture of us at a wildflower garden on our road trip to Austin, not the liner notes for Dean’s band’s only album. But there she was, securely placed and there to stay. I wasn’t sure I wanted her there, and I thought about taking her down and sticking her in a drawer with the take-out menus.

But I left her. She had the kind of eyes that followed you around the room. I’d thought that happened only with paintings in museums, but here she was, in my kitchen, watching me. While I did the dishes. While I took my prenatal vitamin. While I did a final sweep for pieces of broken plate. She even watched the door for my return while I took the pizza box outside to the trash. Back inside, I turned the dead bolt, started the dishwasher, and stood with my hand on the light switch. We held each other’s gaze for a few minutes, and then I left her in the dark.

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Reading Group Guide

1. Why on earth would Jenny Harris want to marry a guy like Dean? Do you know good women who fall in love with bad men? Or is Dean not as bad as he seems? Why do women stay with men like Dean, anyway?

2. Jenny has three men in her life: Dean, Gardner, and her dad. In what ways are these guys alike or not alike? Do they echo one another in particular ways? Do you find that the men in your life resemble one another in important ways?

3. What do you think of Meredith’s actions after the baby is born?
Have you ever lost a friendship because of a monumental change in your life?

4. Jenny’s birth plan turns out to be pretty worthless—in more ways than one. Giving birth and becoming a mom were nothing like she expected them to be. If you’re a mom, was that true for you? What was the biggest surprise about motherhood? If you’re not a mom,
has there been something in your life that was nothing at all like what you’d expected?

5. Were you rooting for Jenny’s dad as he pursued her mom? He certainly left her in a horrible way all those years before. Do you think he’s changed now and become a better man? Has he become a better dad?

6. Does becoming a mom help Jenny herself grow up? In what ways does motherhood enrich women’s lives? In what ways does it hold women back?

7. Jenny starts an antiques business within a year of Maxie’s birth.
Do you think Jenny would have opened up her shop if Dean hadn’t left—if everything in her life had gone as planned?

8. Jenny’s mom is a sassy lady. Should she have tried to talk some sense into Jenny about Dean earlier? Was it harsh of Jenny’s mother to stay away after Dean came back? Was her tough-love policy too tough?

9. One Bright Side reader commented that “all new mothers are single moms in a way.” Do you agree?

10. Jenny likes Gardner, but she sets him up on a date with Meredith,
anyway—or tries to, at least. Have you ever tried to do the right thing and given up something—or someone—that you really wanted for yourself ?

11. Jenny is not at her best for much of the book, to put it mildly.
She’s not taking care of herself at all—and she looks terrible by her own admission. What does it say about Gardner that he’s drawn to her anyway?

12. Gardner’s wife left him in a pretty brutal fashion. What kind of impact did his divorce have on him?

13. Jenny is both lucky and unlucky that she has people willing to help support her financially after Dean walks out. What are the pros and cons of taking help from Dean’s mother? Is staying home all it’s cracked up to be? Why do you think Jenny’s dad offers to help her out, even though he believes people should pull themselves up by their own bootstraps?

14. Who is your favorite character? Why?

15. How would you categorize this book? Is it chick lit? How do you define that term?

16. Have you ever had a disaster that turned out to be a good thing in the end?

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 53 )
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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 53 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted October 2, 2011

    Loved it!

    Great book in general but especially for a pregnant woman or new mom!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 24, 2011

    Loved It

    I enjoyed every minute of this book. It was helpful for anybody that is a new mom or thinking about having kids as well as a fun read. I couldn't put it down. I hope Katherine writes more books in the future because she is a talented author.

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  • Posted April 28, 2011

    loved it

    I really loved this book! Katherine Center has a way with making characters that you can relate to. A quick fun read that makes you feel good after you read it

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  • Posted September 3, 2010

    Great Houston Based Book

    This was an easy to read, solid book. I loved that it was based in Houston and the author was right on. Very personalbe characters. Great for new moms or future moms or anyone who loves a good book.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 20, 2010

    Great Book, Must read.

    This was the choice for our bookclub read. I took it on vacation, I read it in the 7 hours in the car on the way there. I could not put it down. I loved it!! Just a great, easy, light read. A great diversion from all the other books, I laughed out loud.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted April 24, 2010

    Great voice, quick read

    I loved this book. Though some of the plot points are a little too easy, the book is a feel-good, escapist read with a very strong voice. It was funny and heartwarming. The depictions of single motherhood are spot on, and I rooted for Jenny most of the way.

    My only wish is that Center would have gone into a bit more detail--the book is quite short for the amount of time the passes and the things that happen. A little deeper dive may also have created a bit more dimension to some of the characters.

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  • Posted October 7, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    Sure if you are really wanting to read it go ahead.

    Its not the most exciting book but it has a solid storyline and good ending. So if that is something you are looking for go for it. If you are hoping to find an on the edge of your seat book, nope not it.

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  • Posted August 22, 2009

    more from this reviewer


    I got this book because I was looking for new authors and this book was on clearance for less than $5.00 (hardcover.) I thought "what the heck, it's something to read and if it's stupid, oh well, I only spent like $2.99." But I actually enjoyed it. I'll be looking for Katherine Center's work in the future. It was a great summer read.

    When I read it there were times that you'd want to shake the main character because of the 'bonehead' decision she was making. But I've seen family members and friends do the exact same thing. K.C. has very believable characters and does a good job of not glamourizing new motherhood. (This might be a pretty good read for teenage girls that think getting pregnant is cool.)

    I think many will enjoy this book, especially if you enjoy "people-watching." I will definitely read this one again! Pick it up, especially if you can find it on sale again! What an awesome deal to get a really good book at clearance prices! What a bargain!

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  • Posted June 7, 2009

    I Also Recommend:

    a funny book to read

    this is a very funny book. it kept me turning pages until the very end.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 9, 2008

    very charming and funny

    I really enjoyed this book. It was an easy read, very light but with touching moments. The writer tells a good story. Looking forward to this author's next book.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 15, 2008

    Book club recommendation

    I read this months ago and loved it. I order books for my Mom from her library and they never got it--so I am going to buy it as a belated Mother's Day gift. Very sweet and highly enjoyable--I found out about it because a friend of mine had it as a book club read for her group--light and wonderful!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 26, 2008

    Very cute and uplifting...

    I began reading this book over my long Memorial Day weekend. Needless to say, the beginning of the book didn't seem very exciting. I didn't think it would hold my attention over my vacation. However, somewhere around the middle of the novel I became really interested! Before I knew it, I was deeply invested in the main characters and couldn't stop reading. If you want to read a light and hopeful story about love, life's difficulties, people supporting others in need, friendship, and motherhood, then this is the perfect read.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 14, 2008

    Great book!

    I enjoyed this book very much. Thought it was a great first book for this author. Kept me interested throughout and has a good ending.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 5, 2007

    Great book for the summer and for new moms

    This was a light, fun book for the summer that I thoroughly enjoyed. Being a first time mom, I was able to identify with 'Jenny' and I thought Katherine Center's description of those first few months (birth, breast-feeding, exhaustion and all) was spot on! She described this period better than I could articulate it. I plan on buying this book to give away as a baby shower gift for new mommies.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 25, 2007

    Couldn't put it down!!

    I read this book in 2 days. In 2 evenings, actually, after my 2 year old had gone to bed. I stayed up VERY late 2 nights in a row reading it because I COULD NOT put it down. I paid for it the following days at work, but it was so worth it!!! Katherine Center is clearly incredibly talented. I can't stop thinking about Jenny and Gardner. I only hope that this author will write many more novels. I congratulate her on her success. After reading The Bright Side of Disaster, there is no question she deserves it.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 10, 2007

    A reviewer

    This book has lots to's funny, witty, touching and has the perfect happy ending. Katherine Center has a brilliant yet personal style of writing that goes down as smooth as your favorite drink or dessert. You will finish in record time and wish that you could keep Katherine's 'bright side' perspective and sense of humor in your head forever!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 24, 2007

    Bright Side of Disaster

    A wonderful read, well written and witty with just enough humor. This woman understands and perfectly describes the first months of sleep deprived motherhood. The wacky, nutty existence of having a newborn. My entire book club read it and loved it. Its a perfect summer read.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 18, 2007

    couldn't get into it

    I felt like it was all too cliche and forced.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 20, 2007

    A reviewer

    I thought this would be a charming uplifting tale and in reality it gets bogged down with writer's slitted style.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 23, 2007

    Bright Side of Disaster

    A warm and witty story line with just the right amount of serious relationship insight. I could relate to so many different aspects of the book, its characters, and their situations . . . Life, love, loss, friendship, motherhood, and humor. It is neither too long, nor too intellectual, making it the perfect light read for a vacation. Be sure to pack this one in your tote, sit back, relax and enjoy. I highly recommend this charming book and I eagerly look forward to another by this new author. J Real-life, comic, easy to read, not just a chick-lit

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