When life yells “Catch!” and promptly tosses you a bomb, you have two options for survival: Run for cover or work quickly to diffuse it. James Bell may not be the suavest member of life’s metaphorical bomb squad, but he has never run away from a challenge. So, when his daughter’s outfit rips 40 minutes before ballet class and the 35-minute drive ahead of them leaves little time to remedy the situation, it appears that James and Paige are “full-on screwed.”
What’s a father to do with five minutes and a hardware store as his only source of supplies? Duct tape. James wraps red, ladybug-speckled duct tape around his daughter’s torso — who said emergency solutions couldn’t be fashionable as well as functional?
On the outset, his hilarious wardrobe fix may seem like such a “dad” move — the sort of panicked, “Mr. Mom” farce that Hollywood likes to parade as typical male caregiving — but James is a pro. He’s been the primary parent to his three children for nearly 20 years. So, sure, duct tape holding together an 8-year-old’s leotard is messy if not amusing, and author Dan Kolbet certainly has the skill to make this domestic, parental drama feel like a disaster car chase in an action-comedy. Yet, this opening scene demonstrates the resourcefulness and agility readers can expect from James throughout “An Agreement We Made” as bombs with far more complex wiring than this one land in his lap.
James and his wife, Tina, have divided their familial responsibilities. James is a stay-at-home dad in charge of the house and kids while Tina’s high-profile job in medical sales allows them to live very comfortably, even if it keeps her away from home much of the time. With their respective roles clearly defined, they don’t step into each other’s territory, meaning Tina stays out of day-to-day parenting decisions and James doesn’t worry himself with their expenses. So, when Tina suddenly dies, James is blindsided by their empty investment accounts. The sizable safety net he expects to land in is gone, as is the only person with answers.
Unlike Paige’s leotard, the tearing fabric of James’ world cannot be held together with a few strips of colorful tape. Completely broke and having exhausted all other options, James has no choice but to return to his hometown and the life he has avoided for so many years as he grapples with the realization that he may have never truly known his wife at all. While James wrestles with the consequences of his and Tina’s family arrangement, the people close to him do the same, revealing secrets — some heartbreaking and others horrifying — that have been tucked away for years.
Kolbet has previously published across several genres, including his romance series, Mr. Z’s Toy Store Romance, and a thriller titled “Off The Grid.” Although “An Agreement We Made” is his first novel in over six years, it’s clear that he has brought the best of his varied writing experience to this contemporary tale about family. Some moments are tender. Others are fast-paced and rife with tension. A few of them may even make you laugh aloud, but no matter the tone, every moment feels honest.
Filled with the kind of family drama that’ll have you shaking your head appreciatively, this novel is heartfelt, entertaining and perceptive. It’s a story that examines the tangle of decisions that comprise each of our lives, asking us to acknowledge the roles we play and allow others to play in tying the knots. Readers will walk away from “An Agreement We Made” with a new perspective on family and partnership.