I saw One Day by David Nicholls all over bookstores and on reading lists in magazines all summer. When I was last in a bookstore, I decided I couldn’t resist and knew I would want a guaranteed enjoyable read post Nicole Krauss. I started it on Wednesday and finished it Saturday–and did not watch a single crime procedural during that whole time, which says a lot for me. It follows the friendship of Emma and Dexter from college graduation for about twenty years, but each chapter is dedicated to the same single day of each year, each part of the novel aptly named “early twenties,” “late twenties,” etc. I think it’s meant to be the kind of book where you fall in love with the characters and close the book wishing you could begin again for the first time. I read this book quickly, but I can’t seem to find the same praise that I read about all summer.
The idea of “who am I becoming?” and which layers of experience stay with a person and which ones fall away is fascinating, especially the older that one gets. My favorite parts of the book that spoke to this idea were actually the literary quotations that began each part and cut to the essence of Emma and Dexter’s friendship, and in turn the concept of the book. They are too long to quote each one, but “Late Twenties” is: “We spent as much money as we could and got as little for it as people could make up their mind to give us. We were always more or less miserable, and most of our acquaintance were in the same condition. There was a gay fiction among us that we were constantly enjoying ourselves, and a skeleton truth that we never did. To the best of my belief, our case was in the last aspect a rather common one,” (from Great Expectations, Dickens).
I just had a hard time with the characters’ major flaws: Dexter seeking the next good time and landing in a the bottom of a glass in between, Emma as judgmental and flirting by joking about Dexter’s character flaws. I could not figure out why they even liked one another, and I couldn’t find that moment where they actually saw one another. Perhaps it happened in between July Fifteenths? Their messiness should have resonated with me on a human level–but all I could think about was that this reminded me of Mad Men, in that I was watching something a tad too depressing that could go on forever in that state (which I think is the fear that both plagues and paralyzes people). The scariest part is that the state humanity is often best portrayed in those scenes of bleakness.
What was heartbreaking, though, and what might have assuaged the bleakness of certain parts, is if Emma and Dexter were able to actually say what they meant when they meant it. Things went unsaid, a great tragedy always–and because it was an omnicient third person narrator, the reader is left knowing what each of them feel, while the person that really needs to know is in the dark. The book is filled with missed chances, and I suppose, such is life.
Wow. One Day was entertaining. I don’t mean to sound like such a cynic on a Sunday morning.