The Barnes & Noble Review
Belva Plain has been entertaining readers for years with her heartfelt and sometimes heart-wrenching sagas of personal crisis and redemption. Her latest, Fortune's Hand, plays with the idea that fate is a powerful force, one that is intricately and unremittingly woven into all our lives.Belva Plain has been entertaining readers for years with her heartfelt and sometimes heart-wrenching sagas of personal crisis and redemption. Her latest, Fortune's Hand, plays with the idea that fate is a powerful force, one that is intricately and unremittingly woven into all our lives. Fortune's Hand is a remarkable exploration of the complexity and mystery of life, as well as a fascinating portrayal of the strengths and foibles inherent in human nature.
For young Robb MacDaniel, the future was comfortably predictable a career as a small-town schoolteacher, marriage to his childhood sweetheart, Lily, and life on the small farm where his parents raised him. Then a horrible car accident steals his parents' lives, and the future becomes a vast unknown. When the insurance settlement allows him to pursue a lifelong dream of attending law school, Robb jumps at the chance, postponing his and Lily's marriage plans a little longer. Then, in his third year at law school, Robb meets the beautiful and confident Ellen Grant. His first reaction to this self-possessed woman is a notable discomfort, brought on, he thinks, by his dislike of her forward ways. But soon he realizes that what he thought was dislike is actually fear, that he is, in fact, head over heels in love with EllenGrant.
After a nasty breakup that leaves Lily heartbroken, Robb marries Ellen and accepts an offer from her father, Wilson Grant, to join Grant's law firm. The firm, which has a reputation for representing the poor, the downtrodden, and good causes in general, is the perfect platform for Robb. He quickly establishes a name for himself as a successful litigator, and life seems nearly perfect when Ellen gives birth to their daughter, Julie, a year later. Things get even better when Ellen gives birth to a son, Penn, three years after that, but when Penn is six months old, Robb and Ellen grow concerned over the fact that he's not developing the way he should. After several agonizing months of doctors' consults, it's determined that Penn is severely retarded.
Guilt, depression, and blame abound, and as young Penn grows, so do the strains in the MacDaniel household. When the doctors note that Penn's condition is often genetic, Robb reveals the fact that he had a similarly afflicted brother who died before Robb was born. This revelation puts Robb into great disfavor with Wilson Grant, who accuses Robb of intentionally deceiving him and Ellen. Grant can't bear to be around his flawed grandson and blames Robb for his and Ellen's unhappiness.
Penn's boundless energy and reckless behavior is disruptive and embarrassing to everyone in the household. Robb and Ellen each struggle in their own way to deal with the loss of the ideal future and perfect family they had once envisioned, while young Julie grows up trying to control her embarrassment of her brother. The only saving grace for the family comes in the form of a psychologist and specialist named Philip Lawson, who has a special touch with Penn and the seeming patience of a saint. Problem is, he also has a huge crush on Ellen, and as pressure builds within the family, the two start spending more and more time together.
As Ellen tries to ignore her feelings for Phil and balance the needs of herself, Julie, and Penn, Robb focuses his attention on building his career, leaving his father-in-law's practice to join a high-powered, high-profile firm. The increase in pay, along with an affiliation with real estate mogul Dick Devlin, gives Robb a level of financial success previously unknown to him. He goes a little crazy, building up a cache of material wealth on a foundation that's a house of cards. Infidelities follow, and when the house of cards inevitably comes tumbling down, Robb is faced with losing his money, his home, and his wife.
Plain is a master storyteller who excels at putting ordinary people into extraordinary circumstances and building a riveting tale around them. Fortune's Hand is no exception, and as it builds toward its disturbing climax, the heavy hand of fate exacts a shocking price. Utterly engrossing and nicely rendered, Fortune's Hand is one more example of how Plain is anything but plain.
A schoolteacher corrupted by a little money.
William D. Bushnell, USMC (ret.), Brunswick, ME
Once again, Plain (Legacy of Silence, 1998, etc.) tells a plain story in a style rinsed of ornament and dredged of anything sticking up to break the narrative flow. Southern schoolteacher Robb McDaniels awakens to find his parents dead and himself with a few broken bones, all of them in a car that's been rammed by a truck. When an attorney offers Robb enough money to go to law school if he'll not sue the trucker's firm, Robb accepts and leaves behind the waiting Lily, his sweetheart of five years, to whom he's more or less engaged. Then, in his final year of law school, he meets the beautiful manhandler Ellen. Will Robb drop Lily for Ellen? Well, yes, and children ensue as Lily marries a doctor, and Robb joins Ellen's father's upstanding firm and rises to prominence in the law. Even so, his marriage and career take a long and deadly slide downhill, dotted with Robb's defaulting from the firm to join a bunch of legal sharks, his dabblings with women (which Ellen recognizes), and, the capper, his involvement in a bank fraud. This brings daughter Julie back into his orbit as she tries to help her doomed father through bad times. Every step, from auto accident onward, shows "fortune's hand" at work, though the surprising conclusion would seem to underline the notion that character is fate–and Plain as day.
"An accomplished storyteller."
The Washington Post
"Belva Plain is in a class by herself."
The New York Times
"One of her most convincing tales of personal choice and human weakness."