I recently passed four years at ye olde bookstore. In a startling development, the last David Nicholls book, One Day, was the first book I borrowed from work and read when hired. So, at the same time I am celebrating four years there, here comes his next book. Some may call it kismet. I call it a fantastic read.
You all know by now that I like realistic stories. That’s the reason I read Jodi Picoult for years (until she started writing stories about wolves dancing in cargo-knit sweaters, then I checked out of that library). I think the one thing about David Nicholls is that he doesn’t punctuate his words with hearts, rather with broken heart squiggles. The I that he’s dotting? It’s a blood drop from tears. This guy writes real stories, real emotions, and real characters. The end of One Day broke my fucking heart. Yet I still recommended it to anyone who walked into the bookstore. Because it was superbly crafted and written. Sometimes the best things in life have a little heartbreak attached to them. Happily, this is not the case with Us.
Douglas is a scientist who’s very routine in the way he deals with everyday life; so much so, that it’s killing his marriage and he doesn’t realize it until Connie, his wife, tells him point blank that she’s thinking of leaving him. Douglas is stunned and heartbroken, but feels as if there’s still a chance that the woman who loves him is in there somewhere; they’ve been married this long, have two children (one deceased, one a little 17-year old punk who’s constantly nay-saying his father while putting his mother on a pedestal) together, and have a lovely, predictable life. Connie’s the former wild child, free spirit that Douglas met through his sister’s matchmaking efforts. Complete opposites? Oh yes. Somehow, as it often is with real life, it works. For many years. However, after their little girl dies hours after birth, Connie and Douglas drift apart, something he doesn’t realize until she tells him she’s been having an affair. That ends, they begin anew, and shortly afterward, Connie and Douglas discover she’s expecting. She births a son, Albie, who from day one worships his mother and regards his father with ill-disguised disdain. Life goes on in a predictable fashion, with Douglas working his insane hours with as a microscientist, and Connie never fully realizing her dream of being an artist, but making do by working in an art gallery. Until one day, Connie tells Douglas, late at night, that she is dying in the marriage and that she’s thinking of leaving him. Her timing couldn’t be worse. Connie’s idea to encourage Albie’s artistic interests was that the family does a tour of the European capitals…which they are set to embark upon immediately after she dumps this on Douglas. Douglas attempts to keep his bearings and suggests they go ahead with the trip as planned, secretly hoping the spark in their marriage will be rekindled and that he will finally find some common ground with his boy. What happens? Well, read it and find out.
It won’t be difficult to read this book. Once you start, you just can’t stop. It’s a weightier, more satisfying jar of Pringles. Douglas is a great character, a sweet, gentle soul whose heart is weeping inside at losing the best thing that’s ever happened to him, yet maintaining his unique sense of humor throughout. Douglas is a fighter; he doesn’t fight with nunchucks, but with nostalgia. His words are often impassioned, never embittered. Connie is a harder character to like. There are parts of the story where I believe her wild-child nature refuses to stay idle, and that’s the reason for her flighty pathos. However, there are parts where I believe it’s a strong case of mid-life crisis, and nothing less. Some people have that, and act accordingly. I’m not sure what Connie’s deal is, to be honest, but I did spent a lot of the book shaking my head, calling her a sock thief, and wishing someone would bash her in the head with an earthenware jug. It takes two to make a marriage, and two to break a marriage, but the way the story unravels from her periscope, it’s all on Douglas. I didn’t find that to be the case. Sure, he should have woke the fuck up and they should have gone to therapy, but then, we would not have this book. Albie, their son, is another piece of work. You don’t really see too much of him until the latter part of the book. The first half glimpses are of his fascination and “relationship” with Kat, the troubadour accordion street busker (say that three times fast!). Kat, for the record, was one of my favorite parts of the book- because the spirit of freedom and life takes here wherever, and there’s some of that spirit that Connie is looking to recapture. The reason Connie dislikes Kat isn’t because she doesn’t approve of her for Albie (although there is some of that), it’s because she somewhat resents her for living the life that Connie always wanted to, but didn’t due to domestic “bliss” with Douglas. The last minute addition of Freja, the dentist, who Douglas forms a friendship with, and begins to examine things in his marriage, his relationship with his son, and his life- realistically.
This is a book about what happens when everything that you take for granted crumbles and disappears into dust. How do you recover? How do you learn to live again, without that anchor that you’ve had there all those years? How do you act, without the one you love by your side? How do you make your son respect you? How does life go on, after it ceases in it’s everyday somnolence? You come out of it eventually, because you have to continue living, but the process of that is what takes the sass out of your sassafras. Nicholls perfectly captures this in this book. You are rooting for Douglas; I don’t think I was rooting for his marriage to Connie as much as I was rooting for him to find himself and for him and Albie to build a bridge to establishing an actual father-son relationship, something which isn’t present in the book until closer to the end. Fantastic book that will tug at your heartstrings one minute, and have you rolling in the aisles the next. You just don’t know who great life can be on the other side of normalcy, until you venture to the outer limits of a new chance. Do yourself a favor, venture to the bookstore when this is released on October 28, 2014, and buy a copy. And enjoy.