My friend HGM loaned me One Day by David Nicholls with the simple comment, "see what you think." Her words might well have been a benediction, the way this book stirred me. See what I think, indeed! I haven't cried in years when reading, but Nicholls' novel reduced me to sobs. Good thing my husband was asleep or he would've wondered who died.
The two main characters, Brits Emma and Dexter, first meet in college in Edinburgh in the late 1980s. She is a pale, cause-committed beauty; he is an aimless adventure-seeking womanizer. Despite their different temperaments, there is a strong click of attraction between the two which slowly evolves into a deep friendship over the years. By years, I mean days, because, as you might guess from the book's title (and the movie due out soon), the author tells this love story one day at a time. From 1988 to 2007, he treats the reader to the events of July 15th, the anniversary of Emma and Dexter's college graduation day.
The pleasure of this novel is watching the maturing process of the characters. Nicholls knows of which he writes--first and foremost, the vagaries of aging; he wisely illustrates the career angst of the twenties, the get-serious thirties, the take-stock forties. Through the decades of friendship and bad romance timing between Dexter and Emma, I was struck by the ups and downs of each life. Dexter seems to be the successful one early on, not so much later. Emma finds her bliss through teaching, and then, writing, but these passions cannot save her from a hunger which claims to cripple them both as she approaches her 5th decade.
One Day is a love story, to be sure. However, I was left with the distinct impression after finishing the book, that love (and all that might follow, sex, marriage, children) isn't really the main idea here at all. In One Day, time, and the friendship it builds, is the chief protagonist. Time builds up and tears down Emma and Dexter, and it is sad, but oh so beautiful, because their connection endures.
Maybe this book slayed me so because I'm a sucker for an unsentimental love story, a rarity. Or maybe it's because in the summer of 1988 I was in Edinburgh on top of Arthur's Seat just like Emma and Dexter. July 15th also happens to be my son's birthday, a touchstone of a day, definitely. All I know is, after I finished Nicholls' novel, my eyes were swollen at work the next day, but there was a smile on my face.