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Skipping a Beat: A Novel

Skipping a Beat: A Novel

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by Sarah Pekkanen

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From the author of the acclaimed The Opposite of Me, a poignant, witty novel about marriage, forgiveness, and the choices that give shape—and limits—to our lives.

What would you do if your husband suddenly wanted to rewrite all of the rules of your relationship? This is the question at the heart of Skipping a Beat, Pekkanen’s


From the author of the acclaimed The Opposite of Me, a poignant, witty novel about marriage, forgiveness, and the choices that give shape—and limits—to our lives.

What would you do if your husband suddenly wanted to rewrite all of the rules of your relationship? This is the question at the heart of Skipping a Beat, Pekkanen’s thought-provoking second book.

From the outside, Julia and Michael seem to have it all. Both products of difficult childhoods in rural West Virginia—where they were simply Julie and Mike—they become high school sweethearts and fall in love. Shortly after graduation, they flee their small town to start afresh. Now thirty-somethings, they are living a rarified life in their multi-million-dollar, Washington D.C. home. Julia is a highly sought-after party planner, while Michael has just sold his wildly successful flavored water company for $70 million.

But one day, Michael collapses in his office. Four minutes and eight seconds after his cardiac arrest, a portable defibrillator jump-starts his heart. But in those lost minutes he becomes a different man. Money is meaningless to him—and he wants to give it all away. Julia, who sees bits of her life reflected in scenes from the world’s great operas, is now facing with a choice she never anticipated. Should she should walk away from the man she once adored—but who truthfully became a stranger to her long before this pronouncement—or give in to her husband's pleas for a second chance and a promise of a poorer but happier life?

As wry and engaging as her debut, but with quiet depth and newfound maturity, Skipping a Beat is an unforgettable portrait of a marriage whose glamorous surface belies the complications and betrayals beneath.

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WHEN MY HUSBAND, MICHAEL, died for the first time, I was walking across a freshly waxed marble floor in three-inch Stuart Weitzman heels, balancing a tray of cupcakes in my shaking hands.

Shaking because I’d overdosed on sugar—someone had to heroically step up and taste-test the cupcakes, after all—and not because I was worried about slipping and dropping the tray, even though these weren’t your run-of-the-mill Betty Crockers. These were molten chocolate and cayenne-pepper masterpieces, and each one was topped with a name scripted in edible gold leaf.

Decadent cupcakes as place cards for the round tables encircling the ballroom—it was the kind of touch that kept me in brisk business as a party planner. Tonight, we’d raise half a million for the Washington, D.C., Opera Company. Maybe more, if the waiters kept topping off those wine and champagne glasses like I’d instructed them.


I carefully set down the tray, then spun around to see the fretful face of the assistant florist who’d called my name.

“The caterer wants to lower our centerpieces,” he wailed, agony practically oozing from his pores. I didn’t blame him. His boss, the head florist—a gruff little woman with more than a hint of a mustache—secretly scared me, too.

“No one touches the flowers,” I said, trying to sound as tough as Clint Eastwood would, should he ever become ensconced in a brawl over the proper length of calla lilies.

My cell phone rang and I reached for it, absently glancing at the caller ID. It was my husband, Michael. He’d texted me earlier to announce he was going on a business trip and would miss the birthday dinner my best friend was throwing for me later in the month. If Michael had a long-term mistress, it might be easier to compete, but his company gyrated and beckoned in his mind more enticingly than any strategically oiled Victoria’s Secret model. I’d long ago resigned myself to the fact that work had replaced me as Michael’s true love. I ignored the call and dropped the phone back into my pocket.

Later, of course, I’d realize it wasn’t Michael phoning but his personal assistant, Kate. By then, my husband had stood up from the head of the table in his company’s boardroom, opened his mouth to speak, and crashed to the carpeted floor. All in the same amount of time it took me to walk across a ballroom floor just a few miles away.

The assistant florist raced off and was instantly replaced by a white-haired, grandfatherly looking security guard from the Little Jewelry Box.

“Miss?” he said politely.

I silently thanked my oxygen facials and caramel highlights for his decision not to call me ma’am. I was about to turn thirty-five, which meant I wouldn’t be able to hide from the liver-spotted hands of ma’am-dom forever, but I’d valiantly dodge their bony grasp for as long as possible.

“Where would you like these?” the guard asked, indicating the dozen or so rectangular boxes he was carrying on a tray draped in black velvet. The boxes were wrapped in a shade of silver that exactly matched the gun nestled against his ample hip.

“On the display table just inside the front door, please,” I instructed him. “People need to see them as soon as they walk in.” People would bid tens of thousands of dollars to win a surprise bauble, if only to show everyone else that they could. The guard was probably a retired policeman, trying to earn money to supplement his pension, and I knew he’d been ordered to keep those boxes in his sight all night long.

“Can I get you anything? Maybe some coffee?” I offered.

“Better not,” he said with a wry smile. The poor guy probably wasn’t drinking anything because the jewelry store wouldn’t even let him take a bathroom break. I made a mental note to pack up a few dinners for him to bring home.

My BlackBerry vibrated just as I began placing the cupcakes around the head table and mentally debating the sticky problem of the video game guru who looked and acted like a thirteen-year-old overdue for his next dose of Ritalin. I’d sandwich him between a female U.S. senator and a co-owner of the Washington Blazes professional basketball team, I decided. They were both tall; they could talk over the techie’s head.

At that moment, a dozen executives were leaping up from their leather chairs to cluster around Michael’s limp body. They were all shouting at each other to call 911—this crowd was used to giving orders, not taking them—and demanding that someone perform CPR.

As I stood in the middle of the ballroom, smoothing out a crease on a white linen napkin and inhaling the sweet scent of lilies, the worst news I could possibly imagine was being delivered by a baby-faced representative from the D.C. Opera Company.

“Melanie has a sore throat,” he announced somberly.

I sank into a chair with a sigh and wiggled my tired feet out of my shoes. Perfect. Melanie was the star soprano who was scheduled to sing a selection from Orfeo ed Euridice tonight. If those overflowing wineglasses didn’t get checkbooks whipped out of pockets, Melanie’s soaring, lyrical voice definitely would. I desperately needed Melanie tonight.

“Where is she?” I demanded.

“In a room at the Mayflower Hotel,” the opera rep said.

“Oh, crap! Who booked her a room?”

“Um … me,” he said. “Is that a prob—”

“Get her a suite,” I interrupted. “The biggest one they have.”

“Why?” he asked, his snub nose wrinkling in confusion. “How will that help her get better?”

“What was your name again?” I asked. “Patrick Riley.”

Figures; put a four-leaf clover in his lapel and he could’ve been the poster boy for Welcome to Ireland!

“And Patrick, how long have you been working for the opera company?” I asked gently.

“Three weeks,” he admitted.

“Just trust me on this.” Melanie required drama the way the rest of us needed water. If I hydrated her with a big scene now, Melanie might miraculously rally and forgo a big scene tonight.

“Send over a warm-mist humidifier,” I continued as Patrick whipped out a notebook and scribbled away, diligent as a cub reporter chasing his big break. “No, two! Get her lozenges, chamomile tea with honey, whatever you can think of. Buy out CVS. If Melanie wants a lymphatic massage, have the hotel concierge arrange it immediately. Here—” I pulled out my BlackBerry and scrolled down to the name of my private doctor.

“Call Dr. Rushman. If he can’t make it over there, have him send someone who can.”

Dr. Rushman would make it, I was sure. He’d drop whatever he was doing if he knew I needed him. He was the personal physician for the Washington Blazes basketball team.

My husband, Michael, was another one of the team’s co-owners.

“Got it,” Patrick said. He glanced down at my feet, turned bright red, and scampered away. Must’ve been my toe cleavage; it tends to have that effect on men.

I finished placing the final cupcake before checking my messages. By the time I read the frantic e-mails from Kate, who was trying to find out if Michael had any recently diagnosed illnesses like epilepsy or diabetes that we’d been keeping secret, it was already over.

While Armani-clad executives clustered around my husband, Bob the mail-room guy took one look at the scene and sped down the hallway, white envelopes scattering like confetti behind him. He sprinted to the receptionist’s desk and found the portable defibrillator my husband’s company had purchased just six months earlier. Then he raced back, ripped open Michael’s shirt, put his ear to Michael’s chest to confirm that my husband’s heart had stopped beating, and applied the sticky patches to Michael’s chest. “Analyzing …,” said the machine’s electronic voice. “Shock advisable.”

The Italian opera Orfeo ed Euridice is a love story. In it, Euridice dies and her grieving husband travels to the Underworld to try to bring her back to life. Melanie the soprano was scheduled to sing the heartbreaking aria that comes as Euridice is suspended between the twin worlds of Death and Life.

Maybe it shouldn’t have surprised me that Euridice’s aria was playing in my head as Bob the mail-room guy bent over my husband’s body, shocking Michael’s heart until it finally began beating again. Because sometimes, it seems to me as if all of the big moments in my life can be traced back to the gorgeous, timeworn stories of opera.

Four minutes and eight seconds. That’s how long my husband, Michael Dunhill, was dead.

Four minutes and eight seconds. That’s how long it took for my husband to become a complete stranger to me.

© 2011 Sarah Pekkanen

Meet the Author

Sarah Pekkanen is the internationally bestselling author of The Opposite of Me, Skipping a Beat, These Girls, The Best of Us, Catching Air, and Things You Won’t Say. Her work has been published in People, The Washington Post, and USA TODAY, among other publications. She lives with her family in Chevy Chase, Maryland.

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Skipping a Beat 4.1 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 93 reviews.
KrittersRamblings More than 1 year ago
After meeting the author and discussing the book at book club at One More Page bookstore, I can now say I love this author and this book even more. A story set near my home with two characters that throughout the book, I both loved and hated. Julia, a woman who grew up in a volatile household and was always trying to ensure that her future was better than her past. Michael, a hardworking guy who as time has passed spends more time at his office than at his home. Their communication was basically absent and their relationship was more like roommates than lovers. I adored this story and I will absolutely refrain from spoiling such a good ending - so this may be short and sweet. At this time in my life this was a perfect read as I have recently grown accustomed to the boy being away and I have learned to fill the time with more of the hobbies that I enjoy. When our journey ends which is soon, I will have to relearn how our lives mesh and we will be able to reestablish our relationship. As Julia has done, I have learned to lean on a close friend for companionship during the week (and the pup of course). I understood Julia's struggle to try to understand how to be back in a relationship and learn to trust her feelings with him. I can't say more because I loved this book and I want everyone to go find it and read away. The writing was easy for a day at the pool or curled up indoors. It was definitely one where you sit down to read and then hours just easily pass by. A great reflection on the relationship we have and the value we must hold in building and nurturing each relationship from friends to husbands to family.
IsabellaRenae More than 1 year ago
On the outside Julia seems to have it all, on the inside Julia is broken; her marriage has seemingly dissolved into a façade though Julia tries to convince herself it will pass. Once married to her best friend, Julia now looks at her husband and sees a stranger. When her world as she knows it changes in an instant, the four minutes and eight seconds following her husband collapse from cardiac arrest solidifies the change in motion. When Michael is revived, he emerges a changed man, eager to right his wrongs and reconnect with the one woman he has always loved. The question is will Julia be able to forgive, heal and trust the new man her husband has suddenly become when he has been a stranger for so long? Skipping a Beat amazed me. Sarah is a skillfully creative writer. Reading her novel was like sitting down with my best friend as she tearfully recaps a momentous occasion in her life. Her writing pierces the soul as you deeply become connected to Julia. I felt myself on the edge of my seat, patiently waiting as Julia told her story the way she needed to tell it. My emotions hung on every word as the novel twist and turns, exploring the complications of life, marriage, friendship and money. It was truly remarkable with an ending that left me in awe and completely satisfied. Julia's story is full of love, heartache and confusion as her hearts dilemma is displayed across the pages. I loved The Opposite of Me, Sarah's first novel, but Skipping a Beat has stolen my heart and brought about a whole new appreciation of women's fiction. Sarah simply raises the bar for authors with this simple yet complex look at one woman's marriage, as it slips away from her and is then given a second chance. It was realistic, emotional and dashed with humor to ease some of the intensity. I simply couldn't put this book down. I honestly wouldn't change a thing about this novel. I loved the writing style. I enjoyed reading Julia's story as if she tells it in the aftermath, intermixed with present and past details. It was like she was sharing the story with a future friend or a confidant and I felt as if I was the only one in the room with Julia as she told her story with raw emotion and honesty. It is truly a highly original, emotionally addictive novel that will leave you read for more from Sarah. Recommendation: Pre-order! Reviewed for acozyreaderscorner.blogspot
LC112648LC More than 1 year ago
Skipping a Beat! ...... What a great book! This author makes you laugh, cry, etc. Story line was sooo very different. I really, really enjoyed it and highly recommend anything she writes. You feel like you're right there with the characters. This had the perfect ending for the whole story line - although still sad! Can't wait to read another one of her books! Hard to find such a good author. I read The Best of Us and loved that book also. Thanks for writing!
Lauren817 More than 1 year ago
Skipping a Beat is a book that caught my eye the first time I heard about it, because not only was the cover stunning but the premise sounded intriguing as well as promising. Thankfully enough Sarah Pekkanen's Skipping a Beat was a book that took a hold of my heart with its very first sentence and didn't let go until the very last. This novel was so fantastic that I don't even know where to begin, though I guess I'll start where I always do...with the characters. One of the things I love most about adult fiction is the layers and layers of development and time the writers put into their main characters and the lives and relationships at hand and the same rang true with Skipping a Beat. For one, I adored Julia. She was a character who I never failed to root for, even when she did some pretty silly things, because she just felt so real to me. She made mistakes, she wasn't the perfect wife or friend at times but that didn't stop her from being someone I completely admired as as person, and the same was true about her husband Michael. Michael is that typical sweet and nerdy kid in high school that turns out to be a fabulous and brilliant guy during adulthood. What I liked most about them, though, was their relationship. It was complicated beyond relief, filled with so many unsaid things, but yet I could easily see how much they loved each other even when they couldn't weren't able to. Better yet, I loved the questions Sarah brought about me with their relationship. Questions like, how far would I go to try to understand someone I used and still love? How much change is too much change? How far can a person go before loosing all faith in a person and calling it quits once and for all? How would I feel if someone asked me to rewrite the rules of my relationship? It was a thoughtproking read to say the least. I also enjoyed the plot in this once again because of the layers and layers of details and twists and turns that will have nearly any reader on the edge of their seat dying to know what will happen next. Best of all, when mixed with the characters and Sarah's excellent writing, this book was one I couldn't put down, not even for a second. Lastly, I have to say something about the ending in this, though I won't giveaway anything. It was heartbreaking to say the least, though the impact it left on me as well as the characters it involved made it worth it in the end, and it also shows just how brilliant of a writer Ms. Pekkanen is. In all, readers of adult fiction, teen fiction, or a mix of both, you all must read this one! It's simply amazing, a heartbreaking and heartwarming book that I'm still thinking about even though I finished it several days ago. Grade: A+
RtBBlog More than 1 year ago
Reviewer: Stephanie Sarah Pekkanen probes the intricacy and raw verity of affection and marriage in her new novel, as well as the power, and the greed, that envelopes the human conscience from within, ruining every last drop of happiness that one can maintain. The plot of Skipping a Beat is extremely original and intriguing. Julia's husband, Michael, is finally, after years of determination and self surrender, a part of the rich and respected social elite, thanks to his successful, multimillion-dollar health beverage company, DrinkUp. Julie and Mike can finally live the life they've always dreamed of from their poor slums of adolescence. Then one day, one seemingly perfect, normal day, Julia's life shatters when she discovers Michael entered cardiac arrest for four minutes and eight seconds. Her husband was dead for four minutes and eight seconds. His revival is nothing short of a miracle; after all, how many people get a second chance at life? Michael recognizes this a little too well, though -- once he's back in Julie's arms, he's intent on making his second time around focused on his love for his wife, not on his company, his life. I was a little disappointed at Julia's reaction at Michael's decision. You'd think a woman who nearly just lost her husband would be supportive of his afterlife crisis. You'd think the frustration she feels when learning her husband's company -- all the money he's worked hard for -- is going to charity, would dissipate after learning he was doing it all for her. But the largest, most stubborn conflict Julia experiences is ruling out whether or not she should leave Michael now that he no longer has his company. I found this incredibly selfish of Julia. Since she was raised by a gambling addict and never was able to live out the luxuries of life, I understand why Julia would be upset at first. But to drag it out during the entire length of the novel? That's a little shallow. Her outlook on Michael's abrupt, but still emotionally generous new purpose is: leave him and grab all the savings she can before they're all donated, or stay married and live a middle class life. Nearly dying gives Michael a new-found vision to his life; he apprehends that money isn't what matters. After you're gone, the one thing you'll regret most is not spending enough time with those you love, not what you could and couldn't purchase. Julia never seems to reach this discovery, which is when the reader realizes, maybe her marriage was doomed in the first place. The book flashes back to all of Julia's unhappy moments. The time when Michael missed their anniversary because he was on a business trip. The time when Michael promised to go with her to her favorite opera, but stood her up. The time when Julia found out about his affair, then went ahead to engage in one of her own. It is revealed that Julia and Michael's marriage isn't what it's hyped up to be, and that it was screwed up even before Michael's cardiac arrest. However, Michael is now a new person, one who doesn't care for the wealth or the power. And maybe, just maybe, this time, they can make it work out. The saddest part is, just when Julia deciphers this prominent message about true love and self renewal, she loses her chance to make it all better. Too deeply involved with her inner turmoils of concern over money, she loses the opportunity to start over again, in Skipping a Beat's unanticipated, provoking finish. I absolutely cannot believe how the b
NatalieTahoe More than 1 year ago
I loved, loved this book. With characters I couldn't get enough of, from Julia's best friend Isabelle to the brilliant and quirky kid named Noah, this book was a treat from start to finish. And with it all, Julia's love of opera kept me even more entranced. I had forgotten how much those soaring tragedies can pierce right into you - it's because they so easily represent real life. And that is how I fell in love with it all. The book, the characters, the vision Michael had to draft a new marriage with Julia. I found myself clutching the book, hunkering down in my couch, turning the pages. My husband asked me if I was going to bed, and I could only weakly wave my hand to him over the back of the couch, as I prayed that he wouldn't walk around to see why I wasn't talking. Yep. I was a blubbering mess. Sarah Pekkanen has created a new lifelong fan in me. I'll be eagerly awaiting her next book and will get The Opposite of Me to tide me over. And also downloading opera to my computer like there is no tomorrow.
BookHounds More than 1 year ago
This is the most emotional book I have read in a long time. I actually had to take breaks while reading this since I was so drawn into the story and how real the whole thing seemed. Within pages, I felt like I had known Julia my whole life. I could feel her fear and how much she loved Michael, yet realize they had grown apart. Like most marriages they had forgotten those moments that create the relationship. The ending was exactly how it had to be, although I never saw it coming. I ended up in tears several times, but any author who can create that kind of connection is something special. This is in my top ten for the year! I really felt the author made Julia more accessible by taking great pains to detail her relationship with money and her father and how this history makes her responses to Michael quitting his job very realistic. She sees the money as the security she never had as a child and when Michael decides to give everything away without discussing it with her, that trust is broken. Julia tries to understand Michael and what happened between them and how they have grown apart. She reflects and makes correlations through the music and stories of opera that she has found as an escape. In a way, the story is an opera. Also, Julia meets someone who puts everything in perspective in the body of a boy. She introduces Noah to Michael and that child becomes the catalyst that rebuilds their relationship. This is probably one of the hardest reviews I have ever written. The story felt like it was ripped from my own life since my husband decided to quit his job on New Years Eve 1999, without much warning. They always say truth is stranger than fiction, but it is pretty hard to imagine someone else capturing my exact thoughts and feelings, but that is exactly what Sarah Pekkanen did. I received this book at no charge from the publisher in exchange for my honest review.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
At first i did not think i would like tbis but the more you read the better it gets wonderful story but glad i borrowed too much money for a book
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Fabulous story!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book had the perfect pace! I finished it days ago and still can't stop talking about it. It had me in tears for the last gew pages. Anyone who disagrees that this book absolutely is a 5-star book does not know a good book
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Great book!
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Best book
quaintinns More than 1 year ago
What a beautifully written novel about love, marriage, and loss. Sarah is such an incredible writer and accomplished author! I have recently read all of her books (with the exception of The Opposite of Me, which I am saving until last) and her three short stories – each are uniquely different and all 5 stars! Sarah does everything with feeling (you will laugh and cry)-she does not miss a beat. What I enjoy the most is the raw emotion, her writing style, and the way she describes every detail, making each setting so realistic. Each part of the story unfolded at just the right time. The real love of this couple as teens, and their heart breaking childhood, to their struggles coming from such a poor background, their tenacity and challenges to excel in the world – and finally achieving the money and success. However, it took a near death experience and giving up the money to make them truly happy. You will fall in love with each of the characters as each has a special place in this beautifully written story - have some Kleenex handy! A lesson for each of us in today's busy and demanding world –to demonstrate the meaning of love and forgiveness.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book was so much more than the average "chick" book, and it had me crying in the last three chapters. The heartbreaking reality of couples drifting apart or replacing each other with things is very real amongst our modern culture, and this is a look into the not-so-perfect lives of a rich couple that have a missed connection. The way Michael turned his life, and Julia's, in a completely different direction to find each other before he left earth for the last time is bittersweet, yet ever so romantic. A must read.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
It made me tear :( overall i liked the plot and the characters throughout the book BUT she does talk a lot about opera...to much...it was a drag during those parts..if you're familiar with opera you'll enjoy it more
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