"Coming to terms with the past is never easy, but what if part of the past can't remember?"
Reviewed by Svetlana Libenson
Posted January 10, 2019
Women's Fiction Contemporary
Francesca "Frankie" (Or Fancy as Charley calls her) Sicari
has lived on her terms for the last twenty plus years; she
is working, she is happy, and at long last she is fulfilled
by her life. One night, however, a knock on the door
disturbs her reverie and upon opening it, she sees her
ex-husband, Charley Blackwell, a famous photographer who won
numerous Pulitzers, on her doorstep. Upon seeing her, he
begins to act as if she is his wife when in fact they
divorced twenty some years ago upon their daughter's death
and discovery that Charley has been having an affair with a
younger woman, whom he shortly married. Why is Charley not
able to remember the last twenty years nor his current wife,
Hannah? Why does he think his daughter is still alive and
what will Francesca and Hannah do when the two are forced to
team up to make sure Charley is in comfort, and the time for
reckoning has come?
JUST ONCE by Lori Handeland is a superbly written tale that
dares to ask what one would do if their ex came back into
the lives and is dying; and it's a difficult question to
answer. In addition to dealing with the scenario of a dying
ex, Lori Handeland tackles the costs of selfishness, death,
PTSD and the Vietnam War which accrued more live casualties
than dead, will ultimately pay. It's a testament to Lori
Handeland's skills of how well each character was sketched
and drawn in this tale, creating an intricate spider's web
around the reader's heart.
Charley is a character that any sane reader will detest and
unfortunately very little is redeemable about him as years
move on; he is selfish, unreliable and is drawn more to
darkness than light. He puts his career way above his life
and his family and will do whatever he can to get ahead. He
seems to enjoy using photography as a weapon to break
people's minds and to change the world, and often looks down
upon non-tragedy photography as drivel.
Where JUST ONCE really shone is portraying the two women who
stood by Charley's side throughout the years: Francesca
"Frankie" and Hannah. Francesca is also a photographer, but
unlike Charley, she loves beauty and wants people to heal
from it. She understands and accomodates Charley's needs and
always puts him in the first place, trying her best not to
get in his way. However, upon the death of their only child,
she tries to take care of her own needs for a change with
disastrous consequences. Hannah is the second wife and had a
twin brother who died in tragic circumstances. She is
wealthy, take-charge and extremely devoted to those she
loves. She, like Frankie, understands Charlie all too well
and is willing to put up with him. What will happen when
Frankie and Hannah are forced to work and be together to
help protect Charley from himself? Can they put their
rivalry behind them and become friends, if only temporary?
For readers looking for a tale that focuses on women's
friendship, or that is reminiscent of THE HALF
WIVES by Stacia Pelletier and has a memorable if
extremely flawed male character, JUST ONCE by Lori Handeland
should be on top of the to be read list.
What do you do when you are forgotten by the man
you’ve loved for twenty years? What do you do if you are the
one who is remembered?
Frankie Sicari is roused from sleep late one night by a key
rattling in the front door lock. It’s her ex-husband,
Charley Blackwell: a man she hasn’t seen for nearly a
quarter of a century. What’s baffling is that Charley seems
to think they are still married, and has no recollection of
his current wife, Hannah.
When medical tests reveal shocking findings, Frankie finds
herself reluctantly caring for the man who left her twenty
years earlier, while Hannah is relegated to the sidelines.
How can Frankie forgive the man who abandoned her when she
needed him most? And how can Hannah cope with the impending
death of the man she’s loved for the past twenty years –
especially now she is faced with the shattering truth that
he has never stopped loving his first wife, Frankie?
ExcerptHe was only twenty-three, but he'd been to Vietnam and back;
so had many of them. The GI Bill was in full force on
campuses across America. Former soldiers going to college on
Uncle Sam's dime. It was the least they deserved.
Charley could have taken advantage of the bill himself. No
money for college meant he'd been drafted, and while he had
spent time as a grunt with a gun, he'd also had a camera. He
could have come home after his first tour; instead he'd
stayed and kept on shooting. The pictures he'd taken while
marching through the jungle, in the midst of firefights,
faces, bodies covered in blood, the tears and the laughter,
then his insider's view of the final days in Saigon had
landed him here.
For the summer semester he would teach Advanced Photography,
and in the fall he would begin his new job with the
Associated Press. This was the life he'd dreamed of while
growing up on a farm not very far away.
"Are you Charley Blackwell?"
In the middle of searching for his notes, which must be at
the bottom of his camera bag, below every camera body, lens
and filter he owned, Charley glanced up and into the
prettiest green eyes he'd ever known.
"I am." He smiled. "And you are?"
The girl blushed, her cheeks turning apricot instead of
crimson, a shade lighter than the auburn streaks in her dark
brown hair. Her summer weight short skirt and tie-dyed
T-shirt were replicated all over the room, but she wore them
a lot better than anyone else.
"I'm Francesca Sicari."
"Fancy," he said.
She lifted her eyebrows and her mouth quirked. "People
usually call me Frankie."
He rarely did.
Charley managed not to touch her while she was his student,
but it wasn't easy. That skin—dusky with a hint of
peach—begged touching. Those eyes, like a wise Egyptian
cat's—he found himself staring into them when he should have
been teaching. Her hair, which hung to her waist as so many
women's did then, was thick and straight and whenever it
swayed a different shade revealed itself. He wanted to
photograph that hair at dusk, at dawn and every hour in between.
She was his best student, as well as his most talented
student. Frankie saw things in a way no one else did. When
Charley looked at her photographs he found a world he
wouldn't have without her, a world that was different from
the one he saw through his lens. That's what photography was
She sat in the front row of his class for six weeks and
drove him mad. Whenever she was near he smelled lemons.
Charley had always liked lemons, usually in his vodka and
He later learned the streaks in her hair were from lying in
the sun after combing lemon juice through the strands.
Something all the girls were doing. Strangely she was the
only one who smelled like lemons even after she'd washed the
They would go out with the other students—take pictures,
have a beer afterward, talk about photography, the war, the
election, the death penalty, the meaning of Bohemian
Rhapsody—anything, everything—then go their separate ways.
Charley dreamed of her every night.
It wasn't appropriate. He was her teacher. But he wasn't a
teacher. This was a short-term gig. He started counting the
days until the summer semester was over.
After that final class, the students filed out, shaking
Charley's hand, thanking him, wishing him well. Frankie sat
in her chair until everyone was gone.
Charley had been waiting for a time when there would be only
them; now that it was here he wasn't sure what to say. They
were two years apart in age, but he felt so much older.
Probably too old.
He still woke sometimes, screaming in the night. A lot of
the guys who'd come back from Vietnam did. Charley had
witnessed plenty of horrors. Recording them seemed to have
imprinted the images on his brain as well as on film. The
thought of Francesca seeing him screaming, crying, thrashing
. . . he wasn't sure he could stand it.
"I hope you enjoyed the class."
Her lips curved. She didn't speak.
Charley opened and closed his hands, a nervous gesture he
usually soothed by picking up a camera, so he did. He
trained the lens on her.
She placed her palm over the glass. "Maybe later."
"Later?" he repeated stupidly.
She took his hand and led him home.
Later—after—he took pictures of her and she took pictures of
him. They were the first set of many.
What do you think about this review?
1 comment posted.
Re: Coming to terms with the past is never easy, but what if part of the past can't remember?
All I can say is wow! Thanks!
(Kathleen Bylsma 3:42pm January 12)
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