“I was waiting for someone that would sweep me off my feet and would be swept up by me in equal parts.”
This book, Forever, Interrupted by Taylor Jenkins Reid, has swept me off my feet. This is probably one of the best books I’ve read recently. I’ve become increasingly critical of books lately, most likely because I’m plowing through my To-Read List a lot quicker than usual (due in large part to daily lunch breaks at the Starbucks by my work, with my green tea and my novel), and I am becoming more and more frustrated by books that waste my time by not being unique or special enough. There are probably many critical things I could say about Forever, Interrupted, but I’m going to try to steer away from that as much as I can in this review. This is an emotional, heartbreaking and painful story, and I feel that it deserves to be treated with feeling, rather than picked apart for literary prowess. There are issues with the telling of the story, no doubt, and it isn’t exactly a masterpiece in the way that a Dickens novel is, but it is extremely touching and affective, and those are the sorts of books that I always can’t get out of my head.
This is the second book that I can remember making me cry on the bus. This slightly embarrassing event first happened to me last April when I read Ali Harris’ moving novel The First Last Kiss (which I highly recommend to anyone who enjoyed Forever, Interrupted or is in the mood for a deeper and harder hitting romance read). Reid had me in tears, just as Harris did, and to be honest, I spent about 90% of my time reading Forever, Interrupted with a lump in my throat. It’s important to explain a bit about the premise of the novel in order for you to understand why I was so overcome and overwhelmed by it: the novel tells the story of Elsie and Ben, a married couple who fall in love very quickly. Within only six months of knowing each other, they have moved in together and are married. It is then that tragedy strikes: Ben is hit by a truck while riding his bicycle, and he dies only a week and a half after eloping with Elsie. The novel portrays Elsie’s shock and grief, but interweaves this “present” narration with a look back at her relationship with Ben. Most of the chapters oscillate back and forth between showing us Elsie in her current moments of grief and mourning, and then filling us in on her love story with Ben. In that way, we get to witness all of the cute and endearing moments between them throughout the entire novel, rather than chronologically, a style which offers a brief respite from Elsie’s torturing sadness.
I don’t know many people who could read this sort of book without crying. Having said that, I don’t know many people who would read this novel when they are 10 months away from getting married themselves, like I did. What possessed me to buy and read this book at a time when I am engaged and planning my own wedding, I will never know, but being able to somewhat relate to, or at least vividly envision, Elsie’s role as a new bride made her loss that much more heart wrenching. I’m surprised I didn’t throw this book at the wall a few times because there were moments when I certainly wanted to get as far away from it as possible. That is how powerful the articulation of Elsie’s grief is, it hits you right to the core and leaves you winded and breathless.
Reid writes grief well, which is something I knew going into Forever, Interrupted (in truth, I was expecting to be wrecked by it). I read another of Reid’s novels, One True Loves, recently, and it also deals with grief in a way that is very raw and honest. Forever, Interrupted offers everything I felt One True Loves lacked though, because it focused at great length on Elsie and Ben’s connection and affection, and allowed the reader to fully understand just how attached Elsie was to Ben and just how empty her life feels without him. We get right down into the nitty gritty of their relationship, and that makes it even more terrible when we must witness Elsie trying to pick herself up off the ground and create a life without Ben. This isn’t a book for the weak-hearted.
Probably my biggest qualm with Forever, Interrupted is an issue I have with Reid’s writing in general: she tells too much and doesn’t show enough. By this I mean that she chooses to have her characters tell the reader how they are feeling, rather than letting the reader figure out what emotions they may be experiencing by witnessing their actions and decisions. I think this is down to the fact that the three novels I’ve read by Reid are all written in the first person; part of me thinks that if she expanded into third person narration, it would leave her more room to experiment and would allow her to let the actions of her characters speak for themselves. Having said that, I think Reid knows that the stories she creates need, to a certain extent, to be written in first person for the reader to truly feel them. Sometimes telling in a story works, and Reid seems to have mastered those moments where telling a reader something is more effective (and affective) than letting them figure it out for themselves. A good example is when Elsie states (in her internal monologue), “I find myself jealous of the dirt that will get to spend so many years close to Ben’s body”. That simple sentence nearly destroyed me, and it’s a sentiment that it would be hard for a reader to pick up on or envision without Elsie telling us. There were several moments like this during the points of Elsie’s grief in the novel, and at those times, I was very grateful that the novel was written in first person, even if it simplified things a touch.
Forever, Interrupted is most unique in its discussion of what exactly love is. Elsie and Ben know each other for only six months, as I said, and yet they feel instantly that they are soul mates. Although Elsie meets, loves and loses Ben all within the span of less than one year, her grief is strong, crushing and all-encompassing. She finds herself, though, in the position of having to justify her love for her husband several times throughout the novel, because many people assume that not knowing Ben for very long means that she can’t possibly miss him that much. Reid, through Elsie, expertly tackles this idea of whether loving someone longer makes it harder to lose them, and I am very happy with the conclusions Elsie reaches on this point. I am a big believer in the power of True Love, in all its forms, and I have never been one to think that it is possible to rush or slow down love. Love is an emotion that takes its own course: for some, it takes years and years to work up to it, while for others, it happens in just one look. Regardless, where True Love is felt, it is felt, and so it cannot be easily dismissed, whether it lasted for days or decades. I appreciate that Reid asserted the validity of all sorts of love and relationships, and I think the greatest lesson that can be taken from Forever, Interrupted is that love is love, no matter who it is between, how long it lasts or what anyone outside the relationship thinks of it.
I highly recommend this novel…but have tissues at the ready!
❥❥❥❥ (out of 5)
Girl with a Green Heart