Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Review: Us

Summary: David Nicholls brings the wit and intelligence that graced his enormously popular New York Times bestseller, One Day, to a compellingly human, deftly funny new novel about what holds marriages and families together—and what happens, and what we learn about ourselves, when everything threatens to fall apart.

Douglas Petersen may be mild-mannered, but behind his reserve lies a sense of humor that, against all odds, seduces beautiful Connie into a second date . . . and eventually into marriage. Now, almost three decades after their relationship first blossomed in London, they live more or less happily in the suburbs with their moody seventeen year-old son, Albie. Then Connie tells him she thinks she wants a divorce.

The timing couldn’t be worse. Hoping to encourage her son’s artistic interests, Connie has planned a month-long tour of European capitals, a chance to experience the world’s greatest works of art as a family, and she can’t bring herself to cancel. And maybe going ahead with the original plan is for the best anyway? Douglas is privately convinced that this landmark trip will rekindle the romance in the marriage, and might even help him to bond with Albie. Narrated from Douglas’s endearingly honest, slyly witty, and at times achingly optimistic point of view, Us is the story of a man trying to rescue his relationship with the woman he loves, and learning how to get closer to a son who’s always felt like a stranger. Us is a moving meditation on the demands of marriage and parenthood, the regrets of abandoning youth for middle age, and the intricate relationship between the heart and the head. And in David Nicholls’s gifted hands, Douglas’s odyssey brings Europe—from the streets of Amsterdam to the famed museums of Paris, from the caf├ęs of Venice to the beaches of Barcelona—to vivid life just as he experiences a powerful awakening of his own. Will this summer be his last as a husband, or the moment when he turns his marriage, and maybe even his whole life, around? - Harper

At last year's BEA, I received an advance copy of David Nicholls' new novel US. I was absolutely thrilled because I loved ONE DAY -- you can read me review here. ONE DAY made me both laugh and cry, and it was just a very fun and sweet read. Needless to say, I had fairly high expectations for US.

I had a feeling that I'd be in for a treat with US. It was longlisted for the Man Booker Prize, and it received starred reviews from Booklist, Library Journal and Kirkus to name just a few. And I have to say that I really liked this novel. In fact, I couldn't put it down. The chapters are brief and the writing is so easy-to-read that I just sat down and let myself get carried away with the characters. Hours just flew by!

US tells the story of Douglas Petersen and his relationship with his wife Connie and his seventeen year old son Albie. The novel goes back and forth between present day and the past to show readers the ups and downs of Douglas and Connie's marriage. It's a pretty interesting look inside a family that seemingly has it all... until Connie tells him she wants a divorce.

Connie picks an interesting time to shock Douglas with this news because they are getting ready to take a month-long trip to Europe with their son to check out art. Connie thinks the family should still go for Albie's sake, and Douglas thinks he can use this trip to win back not only Connie's heart but also Albie!

Douglas is the narrator of the story and he's (how shall I say it?) a bit of a nerd... and definitely not a good fit for Connie. In fact, I actually wondered for the entire story how these two ended up together in the first place. Connie is a free spirit while Douglas is more of a planner (and that's an understatement.) They basically have different views on everything!

As the family travels through Europe, Douglas does his best to change Connie's mind and win over Albie. Will this family live happily ever after when they return to England, or will this European tour be the last thing they do together?

I loved US -- just loved it. I can't say it really reminded me much of ONE DAY except that it was a story about a long-time relationship, but I did experience many of the same emotions reading US that I had when I read ONE DAY. I laughed and almost cried (nothing like ONE DAY!), but overall I just enjoyed this family's romp through Europe as they tried to figure out their futures.

One thing I appreciated about this novel was the character of Douglas. He was an interesting guy to say the least, and I have to say that I didn't always love him. He was very rigid and probably would have driven most women crazy, nevertheless one as free spirited as Connie; and at times, he even got on my nerves. But I loved him as the narrator and I found myself rooting for him. He had a great sense of self-deprecating humor and I found myself laughing at not only his views on others, but also his views on himself and his family.

Another aspect of US that I enjoyed was that the book was a travelogue... in a way. The Petersens traveled through Europe and saw major museums and art attractions. For someone who hasn't been to these places, it was definitely fun to see them through each family member's eyes. I also liked how the Petersens' trip to Europe was kind of a representation of the journey their life was taking. Maybe I'm reading too much into the story, but it just felt that way to me.

And finally, the ending! What can I say? Not much because I don't want to give anything away. Let's just put it this way, I thought my book was missing the ending. Once I got past the initial surprise, I realized that the ending was perfect for this novel. It also might not be the one that many readers want. I, however, found it just right!

US would make a terrific book club pick. It's a look at middle-aged relationships, marriage, and parent/child relationships; and there is a great deal to discuss. Fortunately, there is a reading guide with twelve thought-provoking questions. Some of the themes you might want to explore include marriage, sacrifice, parenting, change, acceptance, forgiveness, family, instant gratification, love, art, and flexibility. I found all of the characters to be rather interesting, so I'm sure most groups could spend hours analyzing their behavior!

I really enjoyed US and definitely recommend it to fans of ONE DAY. I also think readers who enjoy stories about love, marriage, and family will appreciate this book.

Thanks to the publisher for providing a review copy of this novel.


bermudaonion said...

This sounds so good! You've made me very curious about the ending.

techeditor said...

The way you felt about the ending to this book is the way I felt about the ending to Gone girl, like I must have a defective Copy that was missing the end.