The Jetsetters opens with the Perkins family posing for a portrait—which is fitting, given that the entire book is essentially a family portrait. The Perkins are a dysfunctional group made up of matriarch Charlotte, who is in her 70s, and her children Lee, Cord, and Regan, who are in their 30s and 40s. But the photoshoot that introduces them takes place during their childhood, on the beach, when their alcoholic and emotionally abusive father was still alive.
As the children grew into adults, they pulled apart, as adult siblings are apt to do. With varying points of view throughout the book, readers get a different perspective from each of them and learn that they all miss each other in some capacity.
Lee, who has always been the protector, needs someone in her corner, as she’s tried and failed to succeed as an actress.
Cord hasn’t told anyone in his family that he is gay, and his fiancé is tired of waiting.
Regan is trapped in an unhealthy marriage and, as the longtime caretaker of everyone else, now needs someone to nurture her.
So, when Charlotte wins a cruise around Europe, her big idea is to gather her family and reunite by sea. Lee and Regan haven’t spoken in years due to a blowout at Regan’s wedding, and Cord’s secret is bursting at the seams. And Charlotte, none the wiser, is desperate for romantic love that she never really had. So the four of them (plus Regan’s tagalong husband) embark on a trip in which they are all searching for something.
There are a multitude of plot points that make up this narrative. All the characters have a lot going on, and in some cases, things do get a bit muddled. There was too much that Ward wanted to cover and the subjects fought for my attention. In doing so, details about certain aspects got pushed to the wayside. But more often than not, the heart of the characters shines through the flurry of activity. Ward has a knack for putting across the vibe of what someone is thinking or feeling long before they state it. This aspect of the story was so enjoyable that I zipped through reading it in a single day.
What can easily happen when writing a book with a menagerie of characters—especially characters that are related—is having them all sound the same. That was not the case with Charlotte, Lee, Cord, and Regan. Each has a very specific voice. So much so, that it was barely necessary to read whose perspective the chapter was being told from.
Charlotte, the matriarch, while raised prim and proper, has a wild side that is dying to get out, and that came through not only in how she behaved, but in her voice. She wants to break free from her role as “Winston’s wife,” where she never felt valued, and find someone who not only cherishes, but desires her. She also craves being needed by her children, who pulled away from her.
Lee’s voice was strong for a long time, but is now wilting. She has lost faith in herself not only because of the disintegrating relationship with her siblings, but because she’s unsure of her path in life.
Cord’s voice holds confusion and desperation, like he’s drowning and the life raft is just out of reach. Due to the fear of being spurned, he chooses to wade through life without familial support—but he so direly wants that to change.
Regan’s voice is fed-up and exhausted from carrying the emotional weight of her family. She is everyone else’s shoulder to cry on, but when it comes time for her to break down, no one ever offers theirs.
For me, it was most enjoyable to read from Regan’s perspective. She was the most relatable, being that her problems were easiest to grasp. She reminds me of a Jennifer Weiner character in the way that she’s been trodden on and stretched thin, but she’s not going to stand for it any longer. A Jennifer Weiner character with an Amanda Eyre Ward twist.
Many, many of us can relate to the dysfunctional family trope. It’s fun to read about, but the reunification at the end of most journeys isn’t always realistic. Everyone knows that families fight, but many of us don’t realize that the biggest drama happens in the most vulnerable moments. I think this is due to the Western individualistic culture and the fact that people, even members of the same family, find it hard to relate to each other during a crisis. We get lost in our own heads and forget to communicate, so when your cousin/sister/aunt deals with the situation in a different manner than you would, things begin to pull apart.
This happened in my life when my grandma was dying in March of 2018. She spent her last days in a hospital bed in my mom’s living room with my family surrounding her. Written like that, the scene sounds serene and peaceful during my grandma’s final moments, but it was anything but. In the house were myself, my mom, three aunts, five cousins, one uncle, the hospice nurse (who sat in the corner of the couch and fearfully watched us all devolve into chaos), and even, at one point, the family hairdresser. For starters, the house isn’t big and you couldn’t turn a corner without running into someone whose emotions were running as high as yours. Secondly, everyone deals with grief and death differently. One of my aunts thought it would be cathartic for my grandma, who was not coherent at the time, if we called my grandpa. He and my grandma had a nasty divorce in the 80s and hadn’t spoken since then. My aunt and her daughters thought it would provide closure while the rest of us didn’t think he had the right to speak to my grandma as she was dying. This disagreement caused one of my cousins to blow through the house like a raging bull, and my uncle to get in his truck and drive away at breakneck speed. The atmosphere was anything but peaceful and all anyone could do was cry. Everyone was raw and, as a family, we all know how to touch each other’s nerves. During a time where stakes were so high, no one was seeing eye-to-eye. On a day where we should have been calm and quiet, easing my grandma’s fears, all we could do was fight—above and around her—as if she wasn’t even there. It was heartbreaking, but it was real life. And Amanda Eyre Ward reminds us in The Jetsetters that real life, more often than not, is ugly. The perfect moments are far more rare than the imperfect ones.
There are families who separate and only come together for weddings, funerals, and holidays. There are families who fall apart and never speak again. But in fiction, these families always find a way back to each other—which is comforting for a reader who doesn’t have a support system linked to them by blood. But what’s realistic about The Jetsetters is that the characters don’t dive in hoping for a re-do, or a copy of their family portrait from 30 years ago. As for the cruise, half of them don’t even want to be there. They love each other, but it’s not the kind of fictional love that’s impossible to fathom.
John Lennon once said, “Everything will be okay in the end. If it’s not okay, it’s not the end.” This quote rings true to The Jetsetters in how the story follows the rollercoaster of familial life. When it seems like things can’t get any worse, they always do. But the same holds true for the positive, too. You never know when something good is around the corner.
With family drama, it’s hard to see what comes next both in real life and fiction. A big part of what made The Jetsetters so fun is how real the characters felt. The way that Ward wrote them leads the reader to believe that these characters live on beyond the last page. So, it might be the end of the relationship between them and the reader, but, on their own, Charlotte, Lee, Cord, and Regan have yet a long way to go.
By Amanda Eyre Ward
332 pages. 2020.