Originally published February 2015
“Us.” Heh. David Nicholls should have titled it, “You.”
The author’s almost 400-page exploration into the end (?) of an almost 24-year marriage maybe isn’t necessarily the book you should read when you yourself are staring down 24 years of wedded bliss, and like Connie and Doug, are also in the throes of preparing a son for college.
Thankfully, that’s where most of the similarities end. Unlike Connie, I’m comfortably happy in my marriage. Would I like a few more fireworks? Sure. But I’m nowhere near rolling over in bed and telling my husband that I’m thinking about leaving.
Is our #2 son pushing more than a few buttons, like that of Albie, the 17-year-old sullen son that appears for all intents and purposes to abhor anything his father says and does? Yep. But I’d worry if he wasn’t testing his limits and stretching his wings. He is, after all, preparing to fly.
Truth be told, this could have been just the perfect book for me to read—something to snap me out of a singular perspective and perhaps better understand the viewpoint of my better half—the one who probably feels the family’s financial health and security weighing more squarely on his shoulders more than anyone else, the one who really truly worries about making sure there is a roof over our heads and food in the fridge.
Maybe I am lucky to be able to be a bit freer of a spirit—I do work full-time and I am the go-to parent for most things kids-related, which does account for a lot of stress, but it’s because of my husband that I can sleep well at night knowing the bills are paid and there will be hot water in the shower the next morning.
So while I could relate to some of Connie’s frustration as she, Doug and Albie take a last-ditch-effort vacation across Europe, especially as it relates to how Doug and Albie interact, in the end, I couldn’t support her completely self-absorbed nature. I won’t give it all away, but it was one of the very last paragraphs in the book that did indeed make me want to throw the book across the room (STOP READING NOW IF YOU DON’T WANT TO BE SPOILED):
“I have never thought it was a mistake, never ever, and I have never regretted it since and I never will. Meeting you and marrying you, that was by far the best thing I ever did …. you have no idea how much I love you and loved being married to you. You made me laugh and taught me things and you made me happy, and now you’ll be my wonderful, brilliant ex-husband … and the fact that you and I didn’t last forever, well, you have to stop thinking of that as failure or defeat. It feels awful now, I know, but this is not the end of your world, Douglas. It is not. It is not.”
GAH! You can take this two ways. I can understand both, but agree with only one. One, being that Connie is a completely narcissistic wretch completely ungrateful for the love, loyalty and security her husband bestowed upon her. Dammit, woman, do you not value all those wonderful things you just said? Or, two, Connie is keeping this shit REAL. Both are valid, and maybe not even incompatible, but at least for me, #2 is incomprehensible.
Regardless, the book does what my favorites do—evoke a visceral reaction, good or bad. Nicholls paints a heartfelt, detailed picture of what marriage means years after the wedding photos have faded, kids crawl in between the sheets and passion’s fire fades to a well-kept, but smaller flame.