by Adrian Adamo
People magazine called One Day by David Nicholls “One of the most hilarious and emotionally riveting love stories you’ll ever encounter.” Entertainment Weekly dubbed it “a light but surprisingly deep romance so thoroughly satisfying.” The Boston Globe even said it was “fluid, expertly paced, highly observed, and at times, both funny and moving.” Adrian Adamo says, “what?!”
Maybe I picked up the wrong book at the library (It’s highly possible, I borrowed this book from the Boston Public Library, and every time I go in there I get so lost I end up having to call someone for directions. Or just wandering aimlessly until a kind stranger has to point me in the right direction. It’s usually the latter). Maybe I was knocked unconscious for the duration of the read. Maybe the entire book went over my head. I’m praying that’s not the case here.
One Day by David Nicholls is a novel following the lives of Emma and Dexter from their 20’s into their 40’s, revisiting their lives every year on the same night, July 15th, the date of the very first night they spent together. We first meet Emma and Dexter the night of graduation from University on July 15th, 1988. The two spend the night together, doing nothing but talking of the future and their lives and each other. Even though they are both extremely attracted to one another, nothing comes of this night but a strong friendship. If this is already frustrating to the reader, I beg of you, put the book down now. You’re in for another twenty years of this nonsense.
Year after year, we see Emma and Dexter again on July 15th in their maddening, perpetual state of denial.
The reader travels onward through life with the two — Emma, once determined to change the world through literature, gives up and becomes a waitress, an actress with an awful theatre, a schoolteacher, and unhappily unemployed. Dexter, unsure what to do with his life as well, travels the world, woos woman after woman, becomes a television celebrity, then a washed-up television celebrity, and starts on his downward spiral with a drinking problem. Emma starts seeing a stand-up comedian without a sense of humor, then has a creepy affair with her boss, while Dexter sleeps with anything with a heartbeat, and has a child with a woman who cheats on him with his roommate from college. Through all of this, the two keep in touch, pining for one another, but still maintain the most exasperating stance that they are simply best friends, nothing more, nothing less.
At first, I was engaged by the book and the characters. Emma and Dexter obviously had chemistry, and — let’s be real here — everyone plays hard to get at some point or another. But no one plays hard to get for twenty years. By then, it’s not “hard to get” anymore; it’s just two, sad, middle-aged people stuck in a pathetic game of “you say it first,” “no, you,” for 400 infuriating pages. And the characters stopped being likeable long before then. Emma is just depressing, and the way she treats men as though they don’t matter compared to Dexter is just plain mean. Dexter on the other hand, does nothing to deserve this kind of attention, with passages like “No, friends were like clothes: fine while they lasted but eventually they wore thin or you grew out of them,” or on a night he was supposed to be catching up with his “best friend” Emma, he invites another girl out, thinking “He was meant to have dinner with Emma on Tuesday, but knows that he can always cancel on Emma, she won’t mind.”
But, through all of this, I have to admit that I absolutely loved the end of this novel. It was one of those endings that you had to read three or four times over because your brain can’t wrap itself around the fact that yes, that did actually just happen. I’m not going to ruin the ending here, because if anything, the book is worth the read just for the last heartbreaking few pages. By then, the scenes became clearer, the characters infinitely more likeable, and the book redeemable. But, just like the central story line, it took way, way too long to get there.