Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Grief is as much about regret for what you've never had as sadness for what you've lost

I picked up Us by David Nicholls as part of a book club with a few other friends. I've never read anything of his before but he's sort of been on my periphery and One Day is still something I think I'd like to pick up. I feel like that "still" suggests that I didn't like this book and that's not quite true. It's not a favorite, sure, but I think I'd like his writing applied to a different premise.

It's not even that the premise here is bad. It just falls into my "middle aged white guy problems" shelf, which is far too crowded as is and something that I'm just less interested in at this point. But let's back up and get into what this book is about.

Douglas, the aforementioned middle-aged white guy, is at a bit of a turning point in his life. His teenage son is just about ready to graduate and he and his wife have planned a monthlong tour through Europe to visit various art museums and other cultural touchstones and things seem to be going swell until Doug's wife Connie tells him she's thinking they should get divorced. But she still wants to go through with the trip. Obviously. Be silly to cancel it now. Douglas is devastated by the thought of divorce but thinks perhaps love can be rekindled during this vacation.

Spoiler: things don't go well for Douglas. Sometimes it's funny, a lot of the time it's embarrassing and several times I wanted to hit the characters. This book kept making me think, what if the guy actually marries the manic-pixie dream girl? Well, to start with, they have a kid, who grows up to be an asshole. And then everyone is miserable. Not because of the kid. Well not just because of the kid. Mostly cos they're all sort of assholes.

At this start of this, when Connie tells Douglas in the middle of the night she's thinking of leaving him, I spent the time hoping that he'd be able to convince her that they should stay together, they're better together.

Then they went on this trip across Europe (her idea) and I saw the whole family actually interacting with each other, and I thought "You know what? I know you're all family and everything but you should probably spend as much time away from each other as possible. Cos you're all TERRIBLE together. You all, and this includes you kid, seem like you'd be far happier if you just didn't spend time together. Ever. Maybe just around the holidays."

Some of the son's problem is that he's a teenager and in general, they are just the worst. Some of it is also that he's inconsiderate and an asshole, beyond normal teenager bounds. He has his father don't get along, it seems mostly because the son is suuuuch a brooding artist, and the dad is a know-it-all scientist type. The mom is also the artistic type and is fully on board with her son's behavior, including when they're all staying in France and said teenage son brings a bunch of people back to his adjoining hotel room to play loud music and then have (loud) sex with this girl he just met right on the other side of the wall his parents are staying at and STOP THAT NOW.

No matter how much Douglas wants to be the perfect family and to patch things up, nothing is going his way and again, I was sort of rooting for everyone to realize they'd all be better off if they just wandered off and maybe just called once in awhile to let everyone know they were fine. And I think cos I was hoping that would be the case, the book didn't quite work for me. There were funny parts and even a few poignant moments but overall I just wanted everyone to go their own way cos getting along seemed impossible.

Gif rating:
Title quote from page 264-265

Nicholls, David. Us. Harper, 2014.