US by David Nicholls
It’s not often that I pick up a book and can’t put it down. Generally I read in flight and on the way home, plus in bed a little (but my eyes usually shut within the first page or so). I was sent Us to review. I hadn’t requested it, and my usual reaction is to either read and not review it, or just leave it in the bookcase and forget it until I find myself bookless. BUT, there was something about this book that kept calling me, and I’m glad that it did, because I enjoyed it immensely.
Ava reviewed it over on the broads, and while she gave it a 4, I would have ranked it higher…closer to a 5 (out of 5). It’s not that often that a book holds my interest so much that it disrupts my regular routine to keep reading it.
Here’s what she had to say about it….
Douglas Petersen, the narrator of Us, allows that he adores his wife, Connie. He simply cannot help it. Douglas is circumspect and brainy, laid back and not so with it, while Connie is stylish, beautiful, and chic and a wonderful mother. Albie, their son, now seventeen and sneer driven, goes off to college next year. In celebration, Connie has planned a month long trip to Europe for the family send off.
So Douglas falls off his chair when Connie announces one evening that she thinks she wants a divorce after the trip, when Albie leaves for college. Douglas knows that Albie and Connie have always been attached at the hip, leaving him heaving on the sidelines, trying to figure out how to bond with a son who does everything with his mom. He constantly slips and slips on the escarpment of fatherhood, with all the best intentions in the world. As Douglas prepares to give Connie her trip, as he gives her everything, he begins to grieve beforehand, to wonder how he should act on the trip. And because he tries too hard, it takes a rebellious coup from Albie to set his family straight.
As the family falls through Europe with the tension of being on tippy toes, Albie finally leaves when his father apologizes for his behavior to strangers. Connie’s contempt is complete: family always stands up for family no matter what. And Douglas does what he should have done in the first place: he begins to fight for that which he loves.
Endearing, poignant, nostalgic, Us demands our attention to the detail of a family on the brink of breakup, even though they love each other very much. It takes Douglas whipping out of the family role of outsider and outlier dad to break the pattern of ennui in a good marriage. As Connie begins to see that her husband it not negative, simply cautious, she spikes the center in her heart to reframe Douglas as her husband and father.
Hilarious at times, emotionally taut at others, Nicholls follows Anne Tyler in his splendid characterization of good people falling off the axis of family in times of crisis. Totally authentic, cleverly clear and observant, Us throws up its hands and ends in a voluminous clap for love and angst.