Published: 1st July 2014
Publisher: Washington Square Press
Format: Paperback courtesy of The Racy Hearts
A breathtaking new novel about modern marriage, the depth of family ties, and the year that one remarkable heroine spends exploring both.
When Lauren and Ryan’s marriage reaches the breaking point, they come up with an unconventional plan. They decide to take a year off in the hopes of finding a way to fall in love again. One year apart, and only one rule: they cannot contact each other. Aside from that, anything goes.
Lauren embarks on a journey of self-discovery, quickly finding that her friends and family have their own ideas about the meaning of marriage. These influences, as well as her own healing process and the challenges of living apart from Ryan, begin to change Lauren’s ideas about monogamy and marriage. She starts to question: When you can have romance without loyalty and commitment without marriage, when love and lust are no longer tied together, what do you value? What are you willing to fight for?
This is a love story about what happens when the love fades. It’s about staying in love, seizing love, forsaking love, and committing to love with everything you’ve got. And above all, After I Do is the story of a couple caught up in an old game—and searching for a new road to happily ever after.
I went into this book blind. Until I won a copy from Racy Hearts and Ryn had recommended it, I had never heard of the book nor the author before. I went in with next to no concept of what I was getting in for. I though I was getting a romance, one albeit with a rocky start as I assumed would happen from the title of the book, but a romance all the same. What I got was so much more in so many ways.
At first look After I Do is the story of a broken marriage and the journey one couple take to try and fix what they have. And while that journey is most definitely taken, the book is a lot more deeper than it, and it encompasses a lot more emotion than simply a broken marriage. At it’s heart it is a story about two people who fate has thrown together who have to learn how to grow up, how to get older and how to be the best that they can be. It’s about the need to know exactly who you are as a person, before you can think about the needs of another person no matter how much you might love them. It’s about the comprises you make in life and the way you choose to live your life, and learning that not everyone has the same ideals and concepts about their life’s path. It’s about family and trust and finding your place in the world. It’s beautiful and it’s heart wrenching, and its going to make you feel things you might possibly not felt in years. After I do is one of those books that after the first chapter is no longer just words on a page, its an embodiment of life and romance, and heartache and reality. It’s one of the most touching and realistic novels I’ve read this year and has cemented Taylor Jenkins Reid’s name in my memory.
After I do is extremely cleverly written. Not only is it beautiful and easy to read, but it packs on hell of punch. This is evident from the very first page when the narrative opens with Lauren and Ryan arguing in the car-park over the location of their car. Both characters are irrationally angry at each other and you know something big is about to happen.
I smile at him. It’s not a kind smile.
He smiles back. His isn’t kind, either.
In fact your just preparing yourself for the big blow out, and then Taylor Jenkins Reid takes you back eleven and half years and starts to walk you through the most enchanting and perfect beginning to a romance that you’ve ever read. One she continues to sweep you away with until she slams you back in to present time where the characters are screaming abuse at each other and say spiteful things not to be nasty, but because it’s simply how they feel.
Honestly, Lauren…I did not want you to go with me. I haven’t wanted you to go some place with me in months.
And so we have it, what seems like the beginning of the end. Except it’s not for although our protagonist’s admit to no longer being in love, they decide to live apart for a year and see where they are at then. And so our story really begins.
To be honest, I think I was hoping that Ryan would leave and I’d instantly realise that I couldn’t live without him, and he’d realise he couldn’t live without me, and we’d come running back to each other, each of us aching to be put back together. I imagined, in my wildest dreams, kissing in the rain. I imagined feeling how it felt when we were nineteen.
But I can see that it’s not going to be that easy. Change, at least in my life, is more often than not a slow and steady stream. It’s not an avalanche. It’s more of a snowball effect…”
For the most part we follow Lauren on her journey of self-discovery and freedom, so much so that we are in her head, experiencing everything that she does. Up until now Lauren has succeeded at everything she has put her head to and she can’t quite grasp the concept of failing, especially not when its personal and in relation to her emotional well-being and ideal of who she is as a person. That’s not to make out Lauren as a snob, or someone life comes easily too, but she can’t get over the thought that she has failed at her marriage. At something society dictates that should come naturally to her and that she should never falter in.
Ryan and I are two people who used to be in love. What a beautiful thing to have been. What a sad thing to be.
After working past the hurt and insecurities and making small steps with the day-to-day productive living (a couple of months after the no contact separation), Lauren reaches her first big milestone without Ryan. And it’s here that has to confront her first big hurtle with the understanding that life isn’t always what you thought it was. Ryan hasn’t come back like she thought he might and that realisation alone that they are really doing this for the long haul is both confronting and soul-destroying for Lauren.
By thirty, you’re supposed to have things figured out, aren’t you? You’re not supposed to be questioning everything you’ve built your life on.
This in fact is the basis of the novel, for the narrative forces not only Lauren and Ryan to question themselves and their surroundings, but the reader as well. It asks just how much we rely on society and its social expectations – be that in regards to family relations, our own identity, and society as a whole – , to rule our lives. It throws the question out to the reader, what would you do in the same situation? Thus transferring part of Lauren’s confrontation and doubt onto your self, because like Lauren we don’t know how we would all act. Because like Lauren, we too think that marriage is something that is meant to last a lifetime.
I don’t know what he’s thinking. I don’t know where he’s going. I don’t know how long he’ll be gone. All I know is that this might, in fact, be the end of my marriage. It might be the end of something I thought had no ending.
Because our sole focus is on Lauren we are able to glimpse a wide range of generational view points on marriage from within her immediate family, all of which make sense to their own character and context, but only serve to confuse and frustrate Lauren even more. There is her Grandma who views “Marriage about commitment. It’s about loyalty. It’s not about happiness. Happiness is secondary. And ultimately, marriage is about children.” And her Mother:
There is no failing or winning or losing,” she says. “This is life, Lauren. This is love and marriage. If you stay married for a number of years and you have a happy time together and then you decide you don’t want to be married anymore and you choose to go be happy with someone else or doing something else, that’s not a failure. That’s just life.
Lauren’s own sister Rachel and most trusted confident admits that relationships are not something she actively peruses, not because she doesn’t want one, but because she doesn’t feel as though she needs one to be happy. Despite what her family might think. Then there’s Charlie, Lauren’s younger rascal brother who feels most wounded having grown up fatherless and is lost, until he is found. Obviously none of this really helps Lauren, who really just wants to be told what to think and how to fix it, but is mature enough to recognise anyone else’s ‘remedy’ would only be a band aid solution to their problems. Having now realised this Lauren, and Ryan who we assume is having a similar journey (we glimpse his story through emails), are forced to make up their own minds, and work out who they are first individually, in order to work out a way to be together.
Living apart for a year means the pair, however controversial, embark on new relationships with their families, friends, and other people. I’m going to be honest here, this part disturbed me the most about the pair’s journey, as I just couldn’t fathom the idea of them still married and considering themselves together against the concept of them ‘dating’ and sleeping with new partners. I know it was meant to be a sign of them growing independent and accepting the changes life has thrown them, but I just couldn’t balance the two ideals. We do however get some of the most amazing insight and some of my favourite quotes from this aspect of the narrative – so I can’t really hate it’s inclusion.
I’m starting to wonder who I even am without Ryan. I tell him I’m not sure I ever knew.
I highly recommend After I Do to anyone who is looking for a well written narrative that is bound to stay with you long after you turn that final page. I honestly have about a hundred more quotes that I wanted to include to illustrate just how amazing this story is but A) this review is long enough as it is, and B) I don’t want to give away what happens. It is after all better felt than being told…
“Isn’t it nice,” he says, “once you’ve outgrown the ideas of what life should be and you just enjoy what it is?”