author : david nicholls
pages : [hardcover] 400
memorable quote : From an evolutionary point of view, most emotions – fear, desire, anger – serve some practical purpose, but nostalgia is a useless, futile thing because it is a longing for something that is permanently lost.
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 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.
This book took me a long time to get through; it wasn’t as gripping for me as One Day, the first novel I read by Nicholls. I went into this with high expectations and, even though the writing was very good, this just wasn’t the book for me.
Us is a very slow-paced examination of Douglas’ life. Up until the start of this book, it’s been quite normal. Then he plans ‘the trip of a lifetime’ for himself, his wife, and his teenage son. When he breaks out into a horrible fight with his son, Albie, on the first leg of the trip, Albie runs off to explore the whole of Europe on his own. His wife tells him that she will probably want a divorce. Douglas’ life is falling to pieces and, try as he might, he knows that even if everything aligns perfectly he might still lose the people he loves.
I think I liked the characters in that they seemed incredibly normal, like I could meet them any day on the street. But I have to say that none of them were very likable. Albie could be a bratty kid. Douglas could be a terrible father. Connie could be an overly lax wife. But everyone has their faults, don’t they? I think that was the point that Us was trying to make. Sometimes, those faults clash, and even when we try to fix them they can still force us to grow apart. Or come back together.
Douglas kind of bumbles along for a lot of this book and I think therein was the problem for me. He wanted to find his son, who could be anywhere in all of Europe. Not a lot to go on, and Douglas, for all of the preparations he’s done in his traveling, for all of the intelligence he’s supposed to have with his top-notch job as a scientist, can be very . . . air-headed. Which leads to a few almost comedic moments that, really, just make Douglas pitiable. I loved when he would stop to rest and think about the memories he’d had with his family. Those were my favorite scenes, where he would show us the backstory of how everything came to be right in that moment. How he and Connie met, when Albie was born, the daughter that he and Connie lost. Those were the moments where Douglas felt most human.
I wish those moments could have been extended to encompass all of the novel. Unfortunately, the disconnect I felt made the plot feel stale and overwrought after the first hundred or so pages. Though there were a few exciting scenes, the ending was nothing extraordinary, either. I don’t think that I will end up recommending this book to anyone just because it was so easily forgettable.