It is True Dickinson's birthday and her best friends have gathered on this snowy night to celebrate—yet True has never felt more alone. Though her small business is thriving and her young son is happy, the death of her husband eight years ago has left an empty space in her life that friends and family cannot fill. Suddenly it seems that youth and beauty are slipping away while True is busily taking care of everyone else.
But on this night, an accident on an icy road will offer True the golden opportunity to let love back into her life—if she can somehow conquer her fears.
Twelve Times Blessed is a powerfully moving novel of the heart from one of our best-loved storytellers.
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About the Author
New York Times bestseller Jacquelyn Mitchard's novels include The Deep End of the Ocean, Twelve Times Blessed, and The Breakdown Lane. She is also the author of The Rest of Us: Dispatches from the Mother Ship, a collection of her newspaper columns. She lives with her husband and six children in Madison, Wisconsin.
Place of Birth:Chicago, Illinois
Education:B.A. in English, Rockford College, 1973
Read an Excerpt
Twelve Times Blessed
My Funny Valentine
We challenge you to find more soul-satisfying chocolates than these, packed inside a red satin keepsake box (maybe to hide those first lost teeth, after the Tooth Fairy comes?). That's for you alone. Baby will snuggle in a white-and-red striped hooded pullover, suitable to the season, and each of you will sport a size-appropriate pair of seasonal socks, edged with golden arrows for boys, and hearts and beads of pink and red (impossible for even the most curious little fingers to remove) for girls. Romance missing in your life since the advent of you-know-whom? Not after you relax to this CD. "Bolero" is only the beginning.
A familiar place, when you have gained heft of life, can feel as confining as a familiar pair of pants when you've put on weight. True Dickinson has gained both, and her discomfort is as much the pinch of regret as the bitterness she feels when she has to suck in her gut to fasten her buttons.
As the crow flies, which is how people like to put it, True Dickinson lives only a mile from Nantucket Sound. But recently, and with regret, she has been unable to see the pewter of its winter billowing with customary awe, just as she has stopped looking at her friends with gratitude, at her success with pride, at her small family with surprised contentment. Not since she came from her birthplace in Amherst to the Cape, first as a sitter during college summer breaks, then as a bride with her husband, a pilot for the commuter airline, has she felt such unaccustomed restlessness. Stray and strange thoughts of moving away sometimes escape her purposeful days like loose strands that occasionally escape from her tight and sensible French braid, which True is so accustomed to plaiting every morning she could do it in the dark. She catches herself thinking, I'll blow town, light out for the territories, just my son and me, leave the Cape altogether for a someplace with more oxygen and more sky.
Her consternation, of course, is misplaced.
It is situational, not locational.
For just as crows don't really fly straight -- they are so curious, always swooping off on avian tangents to explore something shiny or smelly, that it probably takes a crow longer to get anywhere than it takes a human being in a car obeying the speed limit -- True feels trapped not by the lack of space in the life around her but by the profusion of empty space of life within her. She is lonely. The ends of her life are working their way loose. Her son, whom she is accustomed to thinking of as a little child, is nearly ten, middle-aged, in kid years. Thus, True can no longer pretend she is a "young widow." Her mother is growing older; her longtime assistants speak of plans to relocate, to take on new adventures.
She is beginning to see herself as the point from which other things depart.
Would she describe herself in this way? Perhaps under hypnosis.
True knows that she's suffering from seasonal lag. And 'tis the season for that. February is no less lonely a month in a resort community, where every view is a watercolor landscape, than it is anywhere else, and may be more so. The closed lids of shops shuttered until summer are depressing to those who pass them, even to locals who rave about having their streets and churches all to themselves. It's a common misconception that people who are inclined to take their own lives do so at Christmas. The truth is that fingers itch for a strong piece of rope or a stash of sedatives starting in February, when the holidays have failed to deliver on their promise, and when the unbearable renewal of life brims just around the corner.
It is a particularly bad month for True. The month of her birth, it is also the month of her husband's long-ago death. Peter Lemieux, who flew eight-seater Cessnas through rowdy coastal weather for a living, died ironically, struck by a motorist on an icy night very much like this. Pete had stopped to help a woman whose car had blown its radiator. A moving van had mowed him down. For years, True has been unable to remember the sound of Pete's voice, and she has no idea whether the image of him she can summon to her mind is a mental snapshot of the wedding photo that she dusts along with her lamp and her hand lotion, or a true memory of the way he looked. True's mother, Kathleen, also widowed young, also by a car accident, nods in solemn empathy when True keeps refusing to bring out and watch the few videotapes she and Pete made during their son Guy's babyhood. Kathleen periodically suggests watching the tapes together, as if an erased life were something to be reveled in, like a great exfoliating bath. True knows that, even after eight years, the sight of Pete's platinum crewcut and square-cut face with its pilot's crinkled tan, perpetually young, will shatter her complacency, which she maintains by carefully separating before from after.
But more than this, she reckons intuitively that what she really cannot bear to see is the infant image of Guy, the only child she likely will ever have -- miniature, mirthful and trustful, his cheeks drooping, round as peach halves, wider than his forehead. That velvety baby touch True can remember, and it grieves her to think it will quite probably be a touch that, for the rest of her life, she will only borrow.
She also knows that, while not quite the merry widow, she is not like her mother, not like the other young widows at the group she attended briefly, who had vied with each other to claim which limbs and digits and months of life they would trade for an hour in the arms of their husbands ...Twelve Times Blessed. Copyright © by Jacquelyn Mitchard. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
Reading Group Guide
When the novel opens during a howling snowstorm, True is celebrating her 43rd birthday with friends at a chic Cape Cod restaurant. It is also Valentine's Day, and the restaurant is filled with cooing couples. Widowed in her 30s and left with a son to raise, True now finds herself--despite the millions made from her Internet baby gift business, Twelve Times Blessed--especially vulnerable, sensitive to the ticking of her biological clock, and ripe for a foolish infatuation. Or true love.
During the evening True meets Hank Bannister. A charming Southerner, Hank not only cooks for the restaurant; he owns it. Hank challenges her to a game of darts, flirts with her, lights a sexual fire between them, and later that night literally saves her life. This dashing young man appears to be a real hero. Or is he? Although dazzled by the stars in her eyes, True feels a dark undercurrent of mistrust: after all, Hank knows a great deal more about her than their chance meeting suggests.
Yet, perhaps love can conquer all. Dragging undisclosed emotional baggage along with them, True and Hank enter into a volatile, passionate union--sanctified by marriage. The effect of this new relationship on her son Guy, on her mother Katherine, and on her own self-esteem is far from predictable. And when the arrival of Hank's Creole familyadds another element to their stormy relationship, True trumps this bump on the rocky road of love by intentionally becoming pregnant.
What happens next reveals the essence of a woman's heart with breathtaking clarity. The decisions that lay before True--to stay in or abandon the relationship, face her own past, deal with her self-destructive behaviors, and weigh the fates of her son, unborn child, and business--unfold with escalating drama. Season by season, a woman's life rolls by against the glorious backdrop of Cape Cod. Perhaps Jackie Mitchard's most romantic book, Twelve Times Blessed is a portrait of a woman that is filled with all the light and shadings of life's sorrows, joys, and dreams.
Questions for Discussion
- What are True's major character traits? What does her name suggest about her? What parallels, if any, are there with Emily Dickinson?
- What are Hank's strengths and weaknesses? What attracts him to True? Did he encourage her insecurity? Does he betray her trust? Do men and women view sexual infidelity differently? How does True react to Hank's? Is it realistic?
- Do you think the main conflict between Hank and True is their age difference? Is True's perception of the problem real, or exaggerated? How do you feel about older women and younger men?
- Do you agree with the saying "Marry in haste, repent in leisure"? Or, if two people fall in love, virtually at first sight, do you believe that waiting is just a waste of time? Do True and Hank have more problems because of their quick wedding?
- Another area of potential conflict for this relationship could be Hank's racial heritage. How do you feel about Hank's not directly revealing it to True? Do you think, in America, it is more or less significant than the age difference?
- On the day of Hank's and True's wedding, the author writes, "A wedding, though a union, also is always a collision of conflicting interests, a competition of the most basic sort." Do you agree?
- The concept of family, and the importance of family, hold a central place in this novel. Discuss Guy as a child and True as a mother--good and bad. What conflicts and benefits does Hank add? What makes a family different from a group of people who happen to live together--and which specific characters therefore are True's family?
- How important are friends in a woman's life? What do Isabelle, Rudy, and Franny give to True? Do you think men have the same kinds of friendships as women?
- This novel has an interesting structure, with each chapter representing a month. Why do you think the chapters open with sales copy from True's business? Are the months themselves, and what happens in each, symbolic, significant, or ironic?
- Fate does indeed have a place in this book. What do you think about the fortune-telling episode? What do you think brings two people together: random chance or something else? Is there a divine plan for each of us?
About the Author
Jacquelyn Mitchard is the critically acclaimed New York Times best-selling author of The Deep End of the Ocean. She is also the author of A Theory of Relativity, The Most Wanted and The Rest of Us: Dispatches from the Mother Ship, a collection of her newspaper columns. She lives outside of Madison, Wisconsin.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Like some of the other reviewers, I was very disappointed. I have read many other Mitchard books, and have enjoyed them, but I found this one very lengthy and draining. I kept reading, hoping the story would gel enough for some satisfaction out of the story, but it kept plodding along. I found it frustrating and I, too, just wanted to shake True out of her blathering. I found the dialogue unrealistic, too. Not Mitchard's best.
I almost don't feel it's fair to give stars to this book yet as I'm not finished with it, but there's an inconsistency in it that drove me crazy. Early in the True-Hank relationship, True asks Hank where he was when he heard JFK was killed, and is shocked when she only realizes a while after he begins to tell his story ('I had just moved here and started the business,' etc.) that he thinks she means JFK JR! But why on earth would she ask him a 'cultural touchstone' question like that when she HERSELF (given that she's 43 and the story is clearly set in 2002) would only have been 4 years old when JFK Sr. was shot? The author has to realize that 'Where were you when Kennedy was killed?' is no longer an 'inevitable question' most adults ask each other, unless they're over 50 or so. Many of today's adults in their 20s and 30s were not even born yet, and many in their 40s are too young to remember. Jacquelyn Mitchard has her 43-year-old character thinking with her author's 53-year-old brain (or thereabouts). OOPS! I'm 42 now and was 40 in 2002, and I'm not old enough to remember JFK Sr. I would have picked a different cultural touchstone, like having the characters run into some John Lennon on the radio and True asking Hank where he was when he heard Lennon was shot. And he admits he was only 12 at the time, and had no clue who the Beatles even were...THAT would have made more sense.
Don't buy this book! I normally don't finish reading bad books. But I read this complete book. I kept waiting for it to get better. It didn't. It was predictable and just plain boring. I was disappointed because I have read two other books by this author and enjoyed them. But this book was 544 pages too long. Again, save your money or buy a different book by Mitchard.
Implausible and overlong, Twelve Times Blessed was not what I expected from Mitchard, whose sensitive Deep End Of The Ocean must have been a fluke. In this novel, the sentimentally named True, a widowed entrepreneur with a flourishing cottage industry of handcrafted baby gifts, derails her generative, bustling life and the lives of her helpful but domineering mother and precocious ten year old son when she falls for a philandering restaurantaur, Hank. Hank is the most confounding character in this tangled mess--moody, hateful, unfaithful, selfish, and yet mysteriously "alluring" to the heroine. He withholds affection and attention from her son, resents her business success and close relationships with her employees, and suddenly transforms (temporarily) into a decent stepdad, only to erupt in vitriole at the merest suggestion of difficulty. THe bulk of this 500+ page novel is spent by True pining over her wretched beloved to the degree that she neglects to notice her son's appendix has burst until he collapses days later. Her choices are portrayed as courageous and well-deserved, yet they come across as shallow, lascivious, and ungrateful to those who loved and supported her in the intervening years between her first husband's death and her second husband's fall from grace. Dreadful, pandering, and an insult to the ostensible intelligence of the characters and the actual intelligence of the reader. Read Elizabeth Berg instead, for a woman's story with heart.
If I had read these reviews first, I probably wouldn't have touched this book. I do agree with some of the complaints - why didn't the main female character do more to communicate with her younger husband once things started to fall apart? And why wasn't she more dismayed when he (Hank) didn't seem to show up when both she and her son were quite ill? Still, the book kept my interest. I enjoyed a lot of the self-revelations that both protagonists went through - that seemed realistic. However, True's mother and her past behavior should have been figured out by both True and her brother far sooner. That whole situation, which came to a nasty climax near the book's end, was probably the most unrealistic part of the novel. On the whole, though, if you are a fan of the author, I think it was worth the read. Some of the lesser characters were quite fleshed-out and enjoyable.
I bought this book based on other works of the author that I had enjoyed, but to say that I was disappointed is an understatement. It is poorly written, the characters are completely unbelievable, and the dialogue doesn't come close to sounding like the way real people would talk. It feels like the author couldn't decide whether she wanted to write a dramatic work, a comedy, or a trashy romance novel. It also feels like she was making up the characters as she went along...with the result that we feel nothing for any of these people. The fact that this book is 700 pages feels like a punishment. It seems like the longest twelve months I've ever experienced.
A great deal of this book is devoted to Christian-bashing. The sole purpose of one of the characters is to serve as a vessel for the author's hatred of evangelical Christians. The character is introduced as a 'super-Christian' who homeschools her children and is revealed to be a malicious, lying, violent, child-hating gossip. (Would Mitchard have created a 'super-Jewish' or 'super-Muslim' character like this?) At another point, the main character and her best friend find themselves in a bed-and-breakfast with needlepoint Scripture verses on the walls, which they find frightening and disturbing. These are only two examples. Odd from an author who preaches 'tolerance' in her newspaper column ...
I couldn't wait to get my hands on this book because I have enjoyed reading Mitchard's other books. Unfortunately, this one did not even come close to my expectations. To make matters worse, I wouldn't even let myself quit reading, thinking maybe it was me and hoping it would get better. It never did! First of all, I thought True was a whiny, insecure, and two-faced character when it came to Hank. I kept thinking, 'For God's sake, Woman, tell him how you really feel and then work out the problems instead of constantly whining about them.' Second, I thought much of the dialogue was contrived and some of the narrative difficult to follow. I had to go back multiple times to try to figure out what Mitchard was trying to convey. And last, but not least, I thought the main characters were just not believable. What a disappointing read--but, now I remember, so was Theory of Relativity. I think Mitchard peaked with Most Wanted and held it together with Deep End of the Ocean. However, I'm bailing. Mitchard is off my list of favorite authors. I have read review after review, and they were all good! Am I the only one out here who feels this way?
Jackie Mitchard won a host of fans and hearts with her appealing novel, 'The Deep End Of The Ocean' (also brought to life on the big screen). It was the story of a family; the dynamics that held them together, the pain that pulled them apart. To date, Ms. Mitchard has pretty much stuck to this familiar turf which she limns so well. Such is surely the case with her latest. TV and stage actress Robin Miles imbues her reading of Twelve Times Blessed' with charm and understanding as listeners meet and come to care about 43-year-old True Dickinson. Many would think that True has or has had all that life offers. She is widowed now; it has been eight years since her husband died. It was a blessed union, but now she's raising their young son alone. Her business is a resounding success, and she has a large group of supportive, good friends. Yet, in her heart, True knows something is missing. Chance steps in when True and her assistant are driving home on a winter's night and slip off the road into a snowy ditch. Their rescuer is Hank Bannister, a handsome young chef (actually, ten years younger than True). Nonetheless, the chemistry between them is undeniable, and immediate. After knowing each other only briefly the two marry. This is a surprise to True's son, but he soon adapts to having Hank as a permanent part of their home. Yet, Hank has spent a few years unencumbered. A half grown son is one thing, but when True becomes pregnant it seems that domesticity may lose some of its luster. As always, Ms. Mitchard is an expert at examining the tensile strengths of family love. Her many fans will relish another exploration of the ties that blind and bind.
i've read various types of women-fiction books, and by far this one is the most realistic and thrilling book to read. when i was half way through, i already went on the web to search for more of her books.
You absolutely will not be able to put this page turner down. I found myself up until 2AM one morning. The plot is a simple one of love and its pitfalls, desire and despair. Ms. Mitchard never disapppoints and surely does not with this one.