Another read for 2016 (which is rapidly coming to an end) is under my belt. Just a short while ago, I had no idea who Taylor Jenkins Reid was, and now I’ve read two of her novels. The first I encountered was Maybe in Another Life, and I quite enjoyed the concept and structure of that novel, which presented two different possible narratives for the main character, Hannah Martin. Similarly to the popular movie Sliding Doors, the two plots expand out from a single point, one particular decision that Hannah both makes and avoids simultaneously, propelling her parallel lives into two very different directions. While I enjoyed each of the chick lit stories well enough, what I enjoyed more about the novel was the way it investigated the notion of Fate and the possibility of multiple universes. It was a concept that impressed and intrigued me.
One True Loves, my second foray into Jenkins Reid’s catalogue, has a similarly intriguing hook: Emma Blair marries her high school sweetheart Jesse Lerner and begins to build a life with him, when he goes missing on a helicopter trip and is presumed dead. Years later, Emma is in love and engaged to Sam Kemper when Jesse returns, forcing Emma to decide between past and present love. I knew right from reading the description that I would probably enjoy the novel, and when my best friend purchased it, I immediately asked to borrow it after she was finished.
The thing is, as with several of the other novels I’ve finished lately, I didn’t love this book as much as I expected I would. Actually, I should say that I thoroughly enjoyed the middle of the novel, but I wasn’t crazy about the beginning or the end…as weird as that may sound. Let me explain…
The beginning of the novel, in which Emma explains how she met Jesse in high school, felt a bit rushed to me. It was interesting to learn about her relationship with her parents, her struggles in dealing with her older sister, and her antipathy toward the bookstore her parents own, Blair Books, but I struggled to understand why these moments were taking up space in a relatively short novel that was ambitious enough to try to present two love stories. There were some sweet but short moments when Emma described her infatuation with Jesse, and then, all of a sudden, Emma and Jesse are in their twenties, living in California together. This switch blind-sided me. So many moments of their young relationship were completely skipped over, and I understand that Jenkins Reid was trying to cram two love stories into one novel, but I had really hoped to feel more connected to Jesse and to understand why Emma loved him so deeply. I didn’t feel like there was time for me to develop that sort of emotion with such a rushed narration.
In what I would consider the middle of the novel, Jesse goes missing and Emma is plunged into despair and mourning. This was a truly touching and affective portion of the novel, and I felt the anguish and turmoil Emma was experiencing. There were moments that took my breath away and nearly left me in tears, and it reminded me very much of a novel I read recently and grew very fond of, Ali Harris’ The First Last Kiss. Emma’s first person narration really shone in this middle section, and my attachment to her only grew as she began her relationship with Sam and taught herself to love again. The comfortable domestic moments between Sam and Emma were adorable and endearing, and I started to root for them and feel really connected to their relationship. What was missing in the descriptions of Emma and Jesse’s relationship, the little, simple and mundane moments of living together, were explained with great detail during this section and I really began to believe that Sam was the right man for Emma.
Then, Jesse returned, and the conflict ensued, rather later in the novel than I would’ve liked. One particular scene stood out from this latter portion of the novel, though: the one when Sam and Emma are saying their goodbyes, before Emma explores her relationship with Jesse again. Sam’s heartache is palpable and I felt for him so strongly that I was almost heartbroken over Emma’s indecision and confusion. I feel that this scene and the dialogues between Sam and Emma in it were the strongest of the whole novel. I’m sad to say, though, that as Emma begins to revisit her love for Jesse, I became less and less interested in the story. Clearly, I was partial to Sam all along, but it didn’t have anything to do with that – I was more bored by the time Emma and Jesse spent together than anything. When they decided to visit Jesse’s parents’ cottage in Maine, I was excited, thinking that the emotion of their relationship would skyrocket, but for me it, sadly, never did. I never really understood why they loved each other, I felt no chemistry between them and all I really wanted was for Emma to realize she should return to Sam. I didn’t even fully understand why she felt so guilty about her feelings because I didn’t think she ever had any real connection to Jesse anyway. When Emma did eventually return to Sam, the ending was so rushed and wrapped up so neatly in a bow that I felt like I wished the second half of the novel hadn’t happened at all.
I really wanted to LOVE this book, but I just didn’t. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed it and finished it very quickly, but I don’t think it will leave any impression on me. I’ve read a lot of incredible chick lit in my day, and I do appreciate the genre, but this novel was just a bit too bland in the end for me. The concept was spectacular, but I don’t think it was articulated quite as well as it could’ve been, so it remains a pretty average novel for me.
Having said all of this, I’d like to end this review on a slightly more positive note, so I’ll leave you with a passage from the novel that I did enjoy. Of course, it comes from the scene I mentioned earlier, between Sam and Emma…
“When you love someone, it seeps out of everything you do, it bleeds into everything you say, it becomes so ever-present, that eventually it becomes ordinary to hear, no matter how extraordinary it is to feel.”
– One True Loves, Taylor Jenkins Reid
Here’s hoping my next read is a bit better than average, because I think I’m in a slump. Suggestions anyone?
❥❥ (out of 5)
Girl with a Green Heart