With “Just Once,” author Lori Handeland creates the ultimate love triangle. It’s about a man who loves two women, marries, abandons and cheats on one; marries the other; then forgets the over-two-decades of marriage and returns to the first wife after a work trip.
Charley is a woman’s dream. He’s rugged, handsome, talented, and incredibly in love with Frankie, or “Fancy,” as he calls her. Both are photographers, but Charley travels the world in search of the perfect photos, spending just days at home before setting out on the next overseas adventure. Frankie is content to wait for him to come home, knowing that he’s devoted to her; besides, she’s happy with her professional life in Wisconsin.
But when tragedy strikes their family, Frankie and Charley each try to deal with it alone, and Hannah is the woman who is there when Charley can’t seem to pick up the pieces of the life he had with Frankie. Hannah was just devastated when her twin brother died, and Charley is there to help her get through her tragedy.
The story is told through a series of flashbacks alternating between Frankie and Hannah as each relationship with Charley is explained. The story begins in 2016 when Charley shows up at Frankie’s door, confused by why his key doesn’t fit in the door. Considering that he hasn’t lived with Frankie in over 24 years, she’s confused about his appearance at her door. He lives in DC with his second wife, Hannah.
But Frankie and Charley’s story begins in 1976, when they first meet in Southern Illinois where Frankie is in college and Charley is teaching a photography class. Through a 1971 flashback, the reader learns about his time in Vietnam as a photojournalist and the awards he has won and continues to win as he is recognized as one of the best photojournalists in the world.
In the present time, Frankie takes Charley, who insists it’s 1989, to a doctor to find out what’s wrong with him and his memory. When Hannah shows up and tells Charley that she’s his wife, he calls her nuts and refuses to believe her. To keep him calm, the women don’t tell him anything, even though the women strongly dislike each other. To Frankie, Hannah is the woman who stole Charley when she needed him the most. To Hannah, Frankie is the woman Charley continued to love — and maybe even pine for — during the entire time of his marriage to Hannah. When they learn why Charley doesn’t remember anything since 1989, they must come to an understanding, and Frankie must decide what she feels for the ex-husband who left her 24 years ago.
The story is heartbreaking for many reasons. But it raises interesting questions for the reader. Is it possible to love more than one person at the same time? Did Charley do the right thing when he left Frankie? Just how much can be forgiven in a marriage? What would it be like to be married to a man like Charley? For these and many more questions, this would be a great choice for a book club.
Please note: This review is based on the advance reader’s copy provided by Jennifer Romanello, the publicist, for review purposes.