Opening lines: “It feels important to start with the truth about how I got here. When everything gets messy and brutal and complicated, the truth is the first thing to go, isn’t it? People try to shade it or spin it or fix it. As though fixing the facts will make the situation less brutal and messy and complicated. Not more. But there’s no fixing this. The truth is that I brought it on myself. All of it.”
Book description, from the publisher’s website:
Annie Adams is days away from her thirty-second birthday and thinks she has finally found some happiness. She visits the world’s most interesting places for her syndicated travel column and she’s happily cohabiting with her movie director boyfriend Nick in Los Angeles. But when Nick comes home from a meeting with his therapist (aka “futures counselor”) and announces that he’s taking a break from their relationship so he can pursue a woman from his past, the place Annie had come to call home is shattered. Reeling, Annie stumbles into her neighborhood bar and finds Griffin-a grounded, charming chef who seems to be everything Annie didn’t know she was looking for. Within three months, Griffin is Annie’s husband and Annie finds herself trying to restart her life in rural Massachusetts.
Comments: I don’t believe in soulmates, but I do know that sometimes two people will click very quickly, on multiple levels, and it feels like the most right thing in the world for them to be together–not just right now, but long term. My parents got engaged after three dates, and my in-laws after not many more than that. Having said that, I tend to think it’s a bit suspect when that click happens between people who’ve very recently come out of other long-term relationships; conventional wisdom says that these “rebound” relationships are supposed to be transitional ones, not end points. And having said that…well, the only people who are really in a position to understand a relationship are the people in it, and sometimes they can’t explain it either.
Laura Dave’s third novel, The First Husband, reflects–to some extent–the attempts of her first-person narrator, travel columnist Annabelle “Annie” Adams, to explain how she ended up married to a chef she met in a bar just days after her live-in boyfriend of over five years told her, on the advice of his “futures consultant” (a.k.a. his therapist), that he needed “a break” from their relationship. She finds it’s not the easiest thing to explain…and that sometimes understanding, particularly of the emotional variety, comes without–or despite–explanations.
I don’t totally agree with Annie’s opening statement that she “brought all of it on (her)self,” but as I became engrossed in her story, I could see why she’d feel that way (and I could relate, as someone who also tends to take a little too much responsibility for what happens to her). She was blindsided by Nick’s announcement that he needed a break from her, but realized on reflection that perhaps she shouldn’t have been. And she accepted that perhaps she and Griffin really didn’t need to know everything about each other’s past relationships, but didn’t realize how much those would affect their own future relationship. And while she’s willing to take responsibility, Annie gets surprised quite a lot.
But what surprised Annie frequently surprised me too, and I found that the surprises were a big part of what made The First Husband such a pleasure to read. Annie’s situation is indeed “messy and complicated” (if not consistently “brutal”), and it develops in ways I frequently didn’t see coming; I really appreciated that a story that summarizes as something pretty predictable rolled out as something different–beginning with the meaning of its title–than what I expected. It was also something more than I expected–more insightful, more amusing, and more sympathetic. The characters surrounding Annie were more developed than supporting characters in a first-person narrative often are; I think that if they hadn’t been, the feel of the novel would have been less messy and complicated, and it would have been much less effective–and less affecting, as well.
I don’t read “chick lit” much any more–partly because I’m getting a bit old to be a “chick,” and am getting more interested in somewhat more mature-sounding “women’s fiction” with protagonists closer to my age–but I’ve always preferred my reading in that vein with more depth and less fluff, and The First Husband definitely qualifies. Laura Dave is an author I need to catch up with; this third novel of hers is the first I’ve read, but it won’t be the last.