Monday, February 20, 2012

Book Nook - One Day

One Day written by David Nicholls:

This book falls right on the border of whether I liked it enough to recommend it, but my feelings about it sway just enough on the "like it" side that it is "Book Nook worthy."  Keep this in mind as you read on, because it may seem like lots of criticism, but it's really tough love!

The book begins with Emma Morley and Dexter Mayhew, two just-graduated college students who find themselves spending the night together.  They don't actually, um, "spend the night together," rather they talk and "cuddle" (Emma's word, which she instantly regrets using).  But these two are very attracted to one another, so they make a plan, sleepily, to spend the next day together in celebration of their new lives.

This is the first nit-pick I have.  First of all, if these two just-graduated-and-in-celebration-mode young adults find themselves in this situation, it just seems like the night would end up differently (at least that's what we're led to believe in just about every other movie or book).  So, if they are so attracted to one another, why don't they?  And, if they are so attracted to one another, why does Emma keep criticizing Dexter (when they wonder aloud where they will both be at age 40, Emma is quick to tell him that he'll be on his third trophy wife).  And if they are so attracted to one another, why does Dexter keep plotting a way to leave?  So are they really attracted to one another, or aren't they? 

From here, the story progresses with each of them leading their separate lives, but coming together through letters or meeting one another at times throughout the years.  And, in one of my biggest complaints, it is always mid-July that they meet, somehow.  Hence the title, One Day.  It is always July 15 that these two individuals come together, the same date as their night together in Emma's room.  I found this to be highly improbable - Emma and Dexter don't see each other or talk to one another for months, or even years, but they just happen to meet up that day, by chance, time and time again?  Come on!

One thing that I really enjoyed about the book was how true the ups and downs of life were presented.  When Dexter's life is going well, Emma is stuck in a job she hates, as a waitress in a Mexican restaurant.  When Emma finds herself in a long-term relationship with Ian, Dexter finds himself in a downward spiral due to his drinking.  Sometimes they long for one another's company, and sometimes they begrudgingly meet each other, hoping to end the occasion as soon as possible. 

I also liked the characters of Emma and Dexter.  Emma's struggles for success seemed very real (I especially liked the part in which she meets an old college acquaintance when she is having a meeting with a publisher - her old friend is at the top of her game, while Emma is still trying to find her way in the world).  And there's her relationship with Ian, a comfortable relationship, but ultimately unsatisfying to Emma.  Dexter is a well-drawn character as well.  He lives the high life, with his family's money, his good looks and his job as a TV presenter.  His answering machine tells the caller: talk to me!  But his insecurities lead to drinking, and he soon finds himself at rock bottom.  I couldn't relate to Dexter as I had with Emma, but thanks to Nicholl's fine writing, I could empathize with him.

There are a couple of great supporting characters, as well.  I loved the character Sookie, Dexter's co-host and eventually, his girlfriend.  She has the same pressures as Dexter, but unlike Dexter, she has her head on her shoulders.  Her outspoken character is a lot of fun to be around.  Ian, a struggling comedian who is actually not at all funny, was also a good addition to the characters.  And I loved Dexter's mother, confiding in her son and asking him to do the same.

Nicholls also adds touches of humor here and there, which I always appreciate in a book.  Sookie drinks from Dexter's bottled water in an unfortunate on-the-air mix up: Dexter's bottle isn't filled with water, but straight vodka.  When Dexter and Emma are at a mutual friend's wedding, the theme is Marie Antoinette ("at least we know there'll be cake" Dexter jokes).  I loved some of the touches of humor found throughout the book.

Now, back to a couple of gripes: Emma writes a book for children, about a school play.  She is lauded as the next Roald Dahl (she downplays the praise by saying it was just a quote from the publisher's daughter).  In Roald Dahl's defense, I'd like to say that Emma's book (eventually a series, ending in her character's teenage pregnancy) is absolutely nothing like Roald Dahl's books!  I wonder if Nicholls has ever read a book by Roald Dahl?  As a big fan of Roald Dahl, I'm indignant that Emma's fictional books could even be compared to the great works of Roald Dahl.  Another quibble: throughout the book, this duo is often referred to as Dex and Em, Em and Dex.  Sometimes it's supposed to be cutesy, other times it's used in sarcasm.  Well, every time it's used, I can't help but think about Chester and Wilson, Wilson and Chester from Chester's Way by Kevin Henkes.  Perhaps Nicholls needs to brush up on his children's literature a bit? 

And finally, the ending.  Oh, the ending!  I will not spoil it for you, but let's just say that the author made something happen, and it was so heavy-handed.  I couldn't read it without thinking to myself, the author has done this to his characters.  Not immersed in the story, as a reader should be, but pointing my finger at Nicholls and asking why he went and did that to Emma and Dexter.  If you are going to shake things up in the story, your presence, as the writer, needs to be well obscured from your reader so that the events of the story progress naturally.  Up to this point, I really liked the writer's style, but it all went downhill from there.  Nicholls makes up for it a bit by giving us, in the last chapter, a look at what Emma and Dexter did that day after graduation.  And after all the characters (and the reader) have been through, it's bittersweet.

My reading experience with this book mirrored Emma and Dexter's ups and downs - one minute, it's all good, the next minute, you're scheming of a way to get out.


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