Dexter Mayhew and Emma Morley meet on July 15th, 1988 on the eve of their University graduation. While neither is expecting much—they are going their own ways the next morning—they spend a fascinating evening together and find themselves unable to stop thinking about the other. Over the next two decades, we as readers are privy to the relationship that unfolds as we see periodic snapshots of where life has taken them, always the same date—July 15th.
The narrative structure of this novel was too enticing to pass up. Watching these two grow up over the span of twenty years but only “checking in” with them on the date of their first meeting seemed like a refreshingly brilliant method to building these characters and the world they inhabit. However, it turned out to be the perfect example of an excellent idea wasted through poor execution. In practice, it was a long, boring, drawn out process where we painfully watched Emma self-deprecate for most of her life and waste it pining for the self-involved and ridiculously shallow Dexter. When she just about finally rids herself of this weird fascination with him (he is, literally one of the least likable characters ever written–so shallow and one-sided and [he even admits] just a piggish asshole) Dexter finally comes around and decides that since he’s no longer good looking, famous, or wealthy, she is finally good enough for him (gag). The novel ends with them finally married and trying for a baby. Tragically, (or, predictably is probably a better word) Emma is killed at the age of 38 in a bicycle accident. Unsurprisingly, Dexter completely derails in the aftermath of her death but only for a short time before meeting someone new with whom to spend the rest of his days.
I could see this ending being sort of tragically beautiful, deep, etc. had the rest of the novel been handled correctly. Since it was not, the whole thing just felt like a long, drawn out bore coming to an end that felt pointless and frustrating. Why bother writing this book? Why did I bother reading it? These two very normal, very BORING people wasted their entire lives. Perhaps this would have been more potent had the author constructed it as a short story. We just didn’t need the depth of years worth of Emma hating herself/her job/her writing and being ridiculously insecure and Dexter’s years of drug use/alcoholism/debauchery just to lead up to this. It was taxing as a reader to sift through literally a lifetime of bland events to get to an end that leaves you going huh? (but not in a good way). Again, this could have been a fascinatingly, well thought out book, but the author definitely dropped the ball and failed to keep things interesting in the narrative. In order for a reader to invest their time and energy into something of this depth, we must be able to emotionally connect with characters that resonate with us. These characters fell far too flat to merit us spending this kind of time in their (boring) universe. Not to mention choosing to end on such a lame/predictable note was the final nail in the coffin. I was very disappointed.