Review: The Realm of Last Chances

The Realm of Last Chances

The Realm of Last Chances
By Steve Yarbrough
(Knopf, Hardcover, 9780385349505, August 2013, 288pp.)

The Short of It:

An unraveling marriage, an illicit affair with a younger man and an online book club is what prompted me to read this one.

The Rest of It:

Earlier this month, Gayle hosted a book club for The Realm of Last Chances and seeing that it had all the finer points of what I look for in a novel (a crumbling marriage, dysfunction, dishonesty and secrets) I jumped on board.

Kristen, a fifty-something, loses her high paid administrative job at a California university. She, along with her husband Cal, move to Boston so she can accept a position at one of the smaller colleges in town. Still recovering from the shock of losing her job, they are both forced to make a new life for themselves, where neighbors seem to know your every move. But the move itself is a last chance of sorts. Their marriage has hit a dead-end. Communication is at an all time low. When Kristen takes up with a younger man, the situation is further complicated.

This was an interesting read and made for a good discussion, but it wasn’t a fave of mine. I think the most interesting aspect of this novel is that Yarbrough catches these people at the worst point of their lives. They are tired of having to hold it together. This is most evident in Cal’s actions. He’s the brooding type whereas Kristen is sort of cold fish. She’s more calculated and because of that, I liked her the least.

My main problem with this novel is that I just didn’t buy Kristen’s affair with Matt. He seems consumed by Kristen but between you and me, she wasn’t all that. She was so closed off that I had a hard time believing anyone could love her, much less a younger guy. Sure, a lot can be said for a physical attraction but I didn’t see much of that either. Had Yarbrough gone a bit deeper with Kristen’s character, everything might have been a little more believable.

However, Yarbrough’s take of a marriage on the rocks is pretty accurate. The distance between each other while lying in bed, the long silences and the quiet observation all add to the tension between Kristen and Cal. As a reader, you know something is about to happen but you aren’t quite sure what, and that is what kept me reading.

Overall, some gorgeous passages that stuck with me but I needed a little more character development for me to really get into the story.

If you want to read what the others thought, check out this post.

Source: Sent to me by the publisher for an online book club.
Disclosure: This post contains Indiebound affiliate links.

12 thoughts on “Review: The Realm of Last Chances”

    1. Yes, I was somewhat close to the epicenter. It didn’t measure that large, only 4.4 but it was so shallow (5 miles deep) which made it feel worse. Plus, I was in the office by myself, in a library that literally fell apart during the Northridge quake so I got out of there quick. That’s the thing with earthquakes, you are never sure if that’s all there is, or  if it’s a pre-shock to something bigger. 


  1. I have a strange relationship with dysfunction. Often, reading about it just wears me out. I get tired of always hearing about the worst in people. And other times, I’m totally into it. A perfect example was A Silent Wife. Total dysfunction but I couldn’t put it down. I’m sure it all comes down to the readability.

    1. Good point. Silent Wife was what I call Smart Dysfunction. High brow, sophisticated but f’d up nonetheless. 

      This is more middle of the road dysfunction. Not as interesting. 


  2. I love to read about dysfunction too but do need it to make sense. I also like there to be some redeeming quality by the end of the book.

    Glad to here you survived the earthquake okay!!

    1. Probably that the main character is such a cold fish. I mean, she admits to the problems in the marriage being a mutual thing but one can’t fix anything while hanging out with a younger man. 

      Just sayin’. 


  3. I don’t mind dysfunction but I sometimes have a tough time with unfaithful marriages and it’s often a deal breaker for me. I can’t count how many times I’ve given up a show I was absolutely invested in because of a careless affair. And yes, I know it happens–maybe that’s why I rather not have to deal with it. I also need a bit more character development as well. Glad this one pulled you through despite the rest!

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