The Sweetest Day by John Hough, Jr.
Release Date - June 22, 2021
In The Sweetest Days, high school sweethearts Pete and Jackie have been through ups and downs. They found each other after college and have had a long marriage and raised a daughter together. She's an adult now working for a law firm in another city. As empty-nesters, they get hit with the biggest blow ever. Jackie has breast cancer and must undergo surgery.
First, Pete's debut novel is coming out, so they return to their hometown for a book signing. Returning to the town they left years ago, Jackie faces coming to terms with their past, her cancer, and her dad's Alzheimer's. Everything takes a bigger turn when a person from Pete's past appears and the book signing and leaves Jackie with more questions than ever before, and the demand that it's time for Pete to tell the truth about the period when they broke up.
I wish I could have loved their characters, but I didn't, and that made it difficult to enjoy this novel. Sometimes, I think there may be some autobiographical notes as the author, like Pete, comes from a family of journalists and lives in Cape Cod. His knowledge of Cape Cod shines in this novel, but the characters left me disappointed.
The story takes place in present-day and in the 1960s. Pete's agnostic, and Jackie's growing up in a religious household, which makes their relationship shakey to start, as her parents don't necessarily approve of Pete. Pete's dad is a bit of a drinker and creates waves within the community with his strong political and social views. Something happens in the past that completely changes Pete's life, distancing him from Jackie in the process.
Fast forward to the present time. They're both in their late-50s and dealing with Jackie's cancer diagnosis. Jackie is withdrawn, and Pete feels helpless. There's also a modern battle with Jackie not fully supporting her daughter's life choices, and Pete's full support. It's clear from the start that the daughter bonds more with dad than mom, and that adds to the tension between them.
Given all of that, this novel seems to be more of a look at the crumbling marriage between them, and whether they'll be able to bounce back from all of the difficulties they're having. It's really a sad look at a marriage that maybe never should have happened in the first place.