Six friends live together in a townhouse off campus. Friends forever, they think, not expecting the end of college to change that. On their last night of school, Bea asks them to write a letter to their 40-year-old selves. Only now, eighteen years later, Bea is long dead, and the rest of the group long ago splintered. No one expects the letters that arrive from Bea’s family lawyer, asking them to reconvene at their old townhouse for what would have been her fortieth birthday on the fourth of July.
Quick, funny story about this book: When I first saw it, I thought it sounded interesting but was also wary. I read Time of My Life (link contains spoilers) by the same author years ago, and remembered being extremely disappointed by a few things. When the same didn’t happen with this book, I was glad – until I went back and read over my review of Time of My Life…and realized it wasn’t the book I’d been remembering. The book that had soured for me at the end was a completely different book by a completely different author read over a year later. I’m not sure how my brain mixed them up! Either way, I enjoyed ToML, and really had no reason to be particularly wary with this book.
My experience with this book was mixed, but ultimately more on the positive side. My negatives had to do with the five living friends. Individually, their forty-year-old selves were not all that great. In fact, I found myself kinda sorting them into categories: the Runner, the Mask, the Fraud, the Savior, and the Martyr. I felt like the two male characters got less time and development than the women, and I really didn’t like anyone in the group. That didn’t change even as they changed. The other thing that bothered me was that three characters worked outside the home and were wildly successful/famous/wealthy, while the two staying home with kids (one mom, one dad) were polar opposite. I would have preferred the working characters to have more relate-able situations. A CEO of a middling craft company, rather than the most famous craft blogger name/brand out there. A plastic surgeon, rather than THE plastic surgeon who works on all the famous celebrities in LA. Etc. I would have liked to see some normal in the group outside the stay-at-home parents.
Despite those negatives, though, I did enjoy the book. Well – maybe enjoy isn’t the right word. I deeply appreciated the book. I felt about it the way I feel about many suburban-decay books: a sort of connected horror and sinking ennui/depression. Because while the book was ultimately heading in a positive direction, with characters discovering things about themselves and each other that will hopefully help them to be happier in the future, there was still a lot of middle-aged angst here. I don’t use that term with derision. Part of getting older, I think, is understanding that the angst we tend to associate with adolescence just morphs into different versions of itself as we age. That’s what midlife crises are all about, right? Angst. Regrets about the past. Fear about the future. Nostalgia for the past, Bitterness about the future. Desperation for change. Desperation for everything to stay exactly the same. Generally the inability to be present right here and right now, a condition that I imagine affects most of the population. And that’s frankly depressing, as well as comforting in its own way, knowing it’s a condition shared so widely. So it’s like I said before, not enjoyment so much as appreciation, making this a book I’m glad I read, but one that also made me want to pour myself a glass of wine.