Destiny is a Giveaway: The Mutual Friend by Carter Bays

Every book on your shelf has an origin story.

Maybe you read about it and purposefully picked it up. Or a friend gave you a copy. Or the author is one of your favorites.

For me, Carter Bays’ “The Mutual Friend” came into my universe thanks to Independent Book Store Day 2022. I set out to celebrate the holiday, as one does, with a purchase for me and one for my daughter, and I was gifted with a mystery read at the point of sale. In this case, it was a clever way to hand out advanced reader copies of upcoming releases that the store likely receives from publishers.

That got me into the store.

Then, it was my daughter’s internship in New York City that prompted me to choose this mystery book, as it was labeled “a comedic novel about relationships in New York City.” So, maybe I wouldn’t like it, but my daughter might.

So there you go, Carter Bays. I have your book because I love independent bookstores and my daughter had an internship in the Big Apple.

I couldn’t be happier with what fate gifted me.

“The Mutual Friend” moved to the top of my TBR pile for no other reason than I thought, “Cool, no one else has this yet, it comes out in June, and I can tell people whether or not it’s worth it.” And I can tell you, emphatically, it’s worth it.

I will say this — at more than 450 pages in paperback form, it’s daunting. And for the first 100 pages or so, I was tempted to abandon it. It felt like I was reading a script to a Netflix show (not really a stretch given that Bays is the co-creator of “How I Met Your Mother”) and not yet knowing the characters, I had to commit to the idea that at some point, they’d become family.

It was 98 pages in when I was rewarded with an exchange full of such self-loathing emotion that it felt like a gut punch from which I had to keep going to know whether the character that uttered it would either meet with justified consequences for his horrendous behavior, or be redeemed.

By the way, he got both.

“The Mutual Friend” is a novel all about then series of consequences that result from both major and unremarkable decisions. Whether or not to continue to study music. Running into a pole on your way to a date. Joining an internet chat group. Passing a statue of a religious figure. It’s also a nod to the six degrees of separation that bind us all together. The sister of a friend you made on jury duty. Your girlfriend’s roommate’s boss. A childhood friend that is a classmate of another.

And it’s also about the decisions we don’t make. Not picking up the phone and calling. Not getting on a plane. Not signing up for a test. Not moving forward with a new job. Not meeting someone as planned.

Everyone has different designs on destiny and its true impact on everyday life. I often wonder if there are forces that guide us. Is it really just that random that I chose to go to school where I did? That I showed up to a bar the same night as my husband did, when he was supposed to be on a plane to St. Louis? I don’t know, but it feel like fate was at the USA Cafe in East Lansing that night.

What started as something that read like television to me is now a book I desperately would love to see on screen, so I can visit these people again. Alice, Roxy, Grover, Bob, Rudy … the whole bunch. There’s a lot of heart here and it makes for an engrossing, thoroughly enjoyable summer read. Once you get going, this book does not slow down, drag, or disappoint. You just have to let the characters and all their flaws in. Don’t miss it.

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