A gritty debut that will leave you shattered.
If He Had Been With Me by Laura Nowlin
Sourcebooks Fire | Paperback, 330 pages
Whenever I pick up a novel, I dive head first hopeful that the characters will have their happily ever afters. I picture their romance in my head like an endless reel of a silent movie: their first meeting will be perfectly awkward and the relationship to happen in a slow but realistic build-up that would have me anticipating and salivating for their fruition. But when the two characters wasn’t really working so good for me, I’d also find myself wishing that they don’t get together at all. This book may fall into the latter not because the two characters were an unlikable, unlikely couple but because I wanted to spare them the debilitating heartache that was to come.
The book spans for what seems like a lifetime: two women who’d become friends and had gotten pregnant at the same time. Their kids grew up practically like twins. They can’t seem to imagine their lives without one another. But as these stories go sometimes, people just drift apart. Or in their case, they were afraid to address how they really felt. Years go by, relationships falter and die but the one constant thing between these two kids is that big what if. Don’t fret though, they would be given the chance. Readers would be given a moment or two to savour that sweet, joyful moment when they finally get together. Like rays of sunshine breaking from a persistent dark clouds and kids singing hallelujah in divine concurrence. But just as soon as it starts, the author will yank that little joy from you. All the while ripping your heart from the cavity of your chest with her bare hands.
It’s hard to get over something when you didn’t understand what happened to begin with. I wasn’t given the time to digest, ponder or even savour. And I can’t figure out why I’m surprised because I already knew Phineas will die from the beginning. Hours after I closed the book, I’m still shell-shocked. It’s not fair. I waited, the length of the entire novel for Finn and Autumn to get together. And then he dies. HE DIES. HE DIES. HE DIES.
I’m so angry at this book. I wished I never read it. Which is stupid because it’s one of the best, heart breaking novel I’ve ever read. So much so that I hugged the living shit out of it afterwards. In my head, I was imagining it was Autumn, doing my part at comforting her in her grief. If I were destroyed, then I can’t even imagine the depths of her sorrow; of finally, finally being free to express the love that she’s kept an entire lifetime only to drown in an ocean of misery afterwards. I said the exact thing to my husband, to which he replied: “Honey, you do realize that this is a work of fiction, right?…and that none of those characters were real?”
But he doesn’t understand. It’s like Autumn when she finished writing her novel and she was overcome with grief over her characters. It’s exactly how I felt. It’s like they died and there wasn’t a damn thing I can do about it. It’s like I’ve known them my whole life when they’ve only spent an entire day inside my head. It’s the hopelessness I feel and great black hole of knowing what happened was irreversible. I’m so deeply affected and I don’t even know why.
I wish y’all would read this book. I’m breathless and achy and I want to say exactly how I’m feeling but I’m a little short on words.
My Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars