My Intended by Brandi Scollins-Mantha
Reading My Intended feels like retail therapy. It reminds me of a long girly magazine article, full of relationship drama, regrets, and mother-baggage. It feels indulgent – and just what the doctor ordered.
A month before they are slated to be married, our narrator’s fiance´, Drew, dies. The author does not dwell on the details of his death; the story revolves around Hannah’s reckoning with his life and what he meant to her, how she failed to let him know. Hannah decides to go through with the wedding ceremony, nonetheless. The crux of the story is how she convinces herself and her friends it’s the right thing to do. Hannah’s friends include Drew’s sister, Miranda, a peppy cook-cum-business lady, and a couple, Randy and Fox-Boy, who serve as foils for Hannah and Drew. While Hannah drags her feet to accept Drew’s many overtures of love and commitment, Fox-Boy and Randy push against each other but each remains the other’s closest companion. The one Hannah anticipates will be hardest to convince, her mother, turns out, in the end to be her biggest support. She becomes the mother she had never been to Hannah. Drew’s parents, in contrast, fight Hannah from start to finish. Pastor Joe rounds out Hannah’s inner circle, creating a ceremony at once healing for Hannah and also which gives her permission to mourn.
The cast of characters is a microcosm of Hoboken, their setting. The story teems with personalities bumping up against each other in subways and trains, in cabs, on the streets, in shops, apartment homes, churches and restaurants. I was swept up into their full agendas – the last minute shopping sprees and dashes to work, meetings, and social engagements, nail and hair appointments and bike trek vacations, among other outings. However, I was left a little out of breath by it all, as well. Amidst all the busy-ness, Hannah breaks down more than once. She runs from her emotions, wanting to hide behind her beloved camera (she’s a photographer), yet at the same time she causes scenes. The worst, in my opinion, is when Hannah darts off in search of the perfect shoes just as her her mother cooks up a breakfast Hannah requests. She’s irritatingly fickle. Perhaps it’s due to Drew’s death, but it doesn’t make me like her. Here’s Hannah waiting to get a shampoo at the salon: “Never underestimate yourself or your ability to fly off the handle. I flip through magazines just to hear the noise, eavesdrop on the receptionist’s conversations with the owner about Bambi’s shoddy work ethic, and try not o engage in any more conversations that might not turn out pleasant.” The writing is chock full of emotion, not all of which is cathartic. I could characterize it more as urban, cosmopolitan, and layered.
The main character’s debilitated state gives the author license to fly off the handle, too. She pushes the characters to the brink of their capacities. For example, in a memory, Hannah jokes with Drew about breaking up just because she can’t see herself being a couple like those who carve their initials into movie theatre bathroom stalls. It’s not funny. She just likes to needle Drew because she knows he loves her. The characters learn to put up with each other, and the author does an astute job of reconciling. Hannah redeems herself in the act of going through with the ceremony Drew had all planned for them. She writes out a statement to read before everyone and finally, it isn’t cutting or sarcastic, as we might expect from her. It is a thanks and an apology. After writing it, “I lean back in my chair and smile, having finally found my words.” And with that, the author has redeemed Hannah in my eyes, as well. After that, Hannah relaxes. Instead of making fun of her quirky friends, she sees it as a show. “I shake my head in disbelief, at once amazed and grateful.” She’s part of the act.
The story is about getting over superficiality. The make-up and drama, the coffee-snobbery and references to first world “problems” make the read fun and tempting, like a good magazine. But it isn’t about any of those things. Instead, it celebrates lasting bonds that break and heal again. Hannah lost Drew but gains a mother. She regains Drew’s sister as an ally. She restores faith in herself that she can move forward while relishing memories.