“Each story is different. Every story ends with loss.”
Camille Pagan is the author Life and Other Near Death Experiences. Thank you Net Galley and Lake Union Publishing for the DRC, which I received in exchange for an honest review. This title is for sale February 7, 2017.
The story starts in the second person, with the narrator speaking to us intimately; he is James Hernandez, and soon we realize that he is speaking to a child about her mother and his memories of her. The narrative is therefore intimate in tone, but also carefully measured and paced, beginning in 1998 when James meets Lou and unspooling toward the present. I have read oh so many novels in which alternating viewpoints are used to keep the reader’s attention from wandering, and this fresh approach had me at hello.
James is Rob’s best friend; James’s own childhood home was dysfunctional and bleak, and so Rob’s family included him on family vacations and other family-only events. They weren’t just close friends growing up; they were almost brothers. And so when James falls head over heels in love and decides to marry, the first thing he does is send for his BFF. They are introduced and James is asked to be best man at the wedding. But in one of those blind random moments of fate, James himself falls madly in love with Lou the minute he sees her.
What would you do in a similar circumstance? Get over it and do it fast, of course. It’s just not possible. But years later, when the marriage founders and Lou walks, James can’t help himself.
There is foreshadowing in plenitude here, and the voice at the outset and at the end are what keeps those pages turning. Of course, there’s also mystery, because the speaker is telling us some things, but clearly withholding others.
If you have to like a protagonist in order to enjoy a novel, then this may not be your book. James isn’t merely flawed; in the book’s middle, he’s whiny. I check my notes and find that in one place I wonder if Woody Allen will option the rights, and in another, I curse and request a violin. Seriously, I want to smack James upside the head and say sure, you shouldn’t have, but you did and it’s done, so man up and get over it already. But around the three-quarters mark, the whole thing takes another turn, one entirely consistent with what has gone before, and once again, it is a book I don’t want to put down till the last page is turned.
Those that enjoy fresh new fiction should consider this book even if romance is not generally a favorite genre. Pagan is an interesting writer, and now that I’ve read this, I want to go back and read the other things she’s written. She’s already gained a lot of buzz—and a movie deal—with her first title, and I suspect she will be someone to watch in the future.
Don’t get left out.