& Review: Us by David Nicholls

Us by David Nicholls.  Fiction. Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton

Us by David Nicholls.
Fiction. Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton

The Book Itself: Oh man, it’s my favorite things, everybody! Simple and Graphic! This one takes it to the extreme – the title (which, might I point out is a mere two words – simple, simple, simple!), the silhouettes of the characters, the red red background. I like it.

My Review: ‘I was looking forward to us growing old together. Me and you, growing old and dying together.’

‘Douglas, who in their right mind would look forward to that?’

Douglas Petersen understands his wife’s need to ‘rediscover herself’ now that their son is leaving home.

He just thought they’d be doing their rediscovering together.

So when Connie announces that she will be leaving, too, he resolves to make their last family holiday into the trip of a lifetime: one that will draw the three of them closer, and win the respect of his son. One that will make Connie fall in love with him all over again.

The hotels are booked, the tickets bought, the itinerary planned and printed.

What could possibly go wrong?

Ah, the Petersons. What a set of messed up hooligans. Here is the central issue with why everyone just can’t quite get along: Douglas is a hapless scientist, who just wants everyone to like him. Connie is artistic, dreamy, messy, and doesn’t like to be shown the concrete of things all the time. Albie, their son, takes after Connie. Plus, he’s a teenager, so he’s got that not going for him.

Everyone annoys each other here, and they all ganged up to annoy me as a reader.

Now, Nicholls also wrote One Day, a heartbreaking, interestingly formatted novel about two people who just can’t stay apart. It was made into a meh movie with Anne Hathaway and Jim Sturgess (that guy from Across the Universe). Nicholls was great with that one.

And in this one…I hated everyone. Which bums me out to say, but…every single one of the Petersons is awful. At first I thought it was just Connie and Albie. They were downright terrible to Douglas! And they were pretty awful people. I could give a little leeway to Albie because he was a Teenage Character going through a “Phase” (you know, the stereotypical one where one hates ones parents, although in this case he only really hates Douglas). But Connie…she looks down on her husband with derision throughout the entire novel. Any expression of affection is done in a pitying way. Even during flashbacks, where we supposedly see the days they were the most happiest, she’s a stuck up woman who thinks Douglas is merely cute and clever. Whereas Douglas is just besotted, and perpetually in a can’t-believe-a-woman-this-beautiful-could-be-into-me state of mind.

When Douglas messes up, Connie and Albie join in on shaking their heads, locking their doors, shutting him out. At no point in the novel did I sympathize with either of them. Why would Douglas want to keep these kind of poisonous relationships around, is what I actually thought at one point. Bad, I know.

And then I didn’t like Douglas. Because he’s just so darn affable. He wants so very badly to make this all right (when he’s done actually very little to deserve such derision), that he steps over the line of sympathy. At just the moment I was about to give up on him (and, perhaps, the book), he does start to build up a spine. He rallies. He goes after something. Which had me cheering for him again. Okay, I thought. I could get behind this character. I could want him to be happy again, even if its with these nasty people. But even that’s not enough. Because Douglas is like a sad puppy. And when someone shows that they don’t like him again, he goes back to being a doormat. The ending is a sad, flat note on a family that already had a dismal outlook.

Now, Nicholls can write a scene. There was some pretty prose in there, the idea is fantastic. The sumptuous (that’s your word of the day, everyone: sumptuous) depictions of European cities and the museums and the art (you’ll have to look up a couple paintings to understand what the heck they’re talking about when they describe them) are awesome. It’s a vacation-y read. But I like to be able to root for, maybe even relate to my characters. And maybe I’m just not at a place in my life right now where I can appreciate this particular circumstance, even in print, fictional form, but this book was about as far away from my cup of tea as a plate of chicken gizzards (ew).

My Grade: C-


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