Nikki Jenkins's novel imagines the life of a woman who experiences the best and worst of everyone around her—and tries to redeem every relationship she has, no matter how crazy and convoluted they become.
Natalie Kelley's world is in danger of falling apart, and she is the only one who can keep that from happening. Her husband, Anderson—who has an undeniable history of adultery—is once again preoccupied with something other than work. And that's not all. Natalie has to deal with her own spoiled mother, drug-addicted sister, man-crazy best friend, and her own children who are too young to take care of themselves.
Natalie goes through three days of her life, desperately clinging to the only life she knows and supporting everyone who relies on her, all at once. Her husband's actions verge on the edge of abusive, and it is only a matter of time before Natalie discovers what has been drawing him further away from their love—and the results will shock everyone.
Her struggles are contrasted with flashbacks that help make sense of the present, showing her relationships as they had been, and as they might yet become again. Through it all, Natalie strives to be available for everyone, but is even her indomitable spirit up to the task? Playing With the Hand I Was Dealt is an insightful debut about a woman's attempts to redefine "normal" in a life gone mad.
Jenkins's unsystematic debut follows Natalie Kelley, a 30-something African-American, who has been married three years to steady provider Anderson: the couple have beautiful twins and a nice home in an Ohio suburb. Natalie, admittedly preoccupied with the children, suspects her attractive, sports-loving husband is cheating on her, and confronts her fears. Her abrasive best friend from high school, Leslie Ann West, in contrast, made her hard-going way on her own as an exotic dancer before becoming successful as a marketing director, though she's resentful she's unmarried and dying to find a suitable sire for her future baby. Scenes of Leslie's disastrous dates with various men and snapshots of Natalie's extended family provide cornball levity and further drama respectively in Jenkins's disjointed narrative, which flashes back repeatedly from the weekend of Natalie and Anderson's reckoning.