Thursday, June 2, 2011
Book Review: One Day
One Day has, at its core, the gimmick of each chapter relating the events of a particular July 15 over the course of 20 years. As the book begins we find our protagonists, Dexter and Emma, talking in bed in a state of undress having spent unspecified hours kissing and chatting and coming this close to having sexual intercourse.
What we glean is that the two have just officially met, after having socially known of each other while attending college, from which they've graduated the day prior. Dexter is a bit of a cad while Emma, on the other hand, is a beautiful but self-conscious intellectual. The encounter is understood to be a one-night stand as Dexter is poised to begin an indefinite trot around the globe.
From there the story goes, year after year one day at a time, weaving these two characters in and out of each others lives, through good times and bad, as their friendship grows and is tested and their feelings for each other evolve as the two mature through life's experiences.
Nicholls is aware that the story lives or dies on his ability to keep his gimmick from becoming overtly contrived and tries to avoid having each July 15 be a monumental moment. For the most part he succeeds. We get enough snippets of the rest of their years to know that we miss a lot of action in the interim and as we grow to care about the characters we accept that there's certain events that we just have to be present for. At the same time, the events that do occur on July 15 are just a little too conveniently interesting. Was there not one year when Dexter did nothing but clean his apartment? Or Emma sat on the deck and read?
Also, the relative evolution of tomcat-Dex and prim-and-proper-Emma is predictable. You know from the start that the two will, at some point, admit their feelings for each other and get together and it is also a little too easy to predict the rise and falls as Dexter's high-flying party lifestyle comes back to bite him and Emma is finally rewarded for an underdog, unsatisfying existence. Knowing nothing more than the basic premise and a character overview I could have guessed when the good and bad lives would reverse and when they would finally meet in the middle and I would have been exactly right.
The culmination, also, seems to betray the readers trust rather than reward it. I can't say much on the subject without spoiling, suffice to say that you give your time and energy into reading this story only to be handed what feels like a consolation prize wrapped in warm fuzzy packaging.
Still, One Day is a fun, harmless read. It's tailor-made for a movie, which is why the upcoming film adaptation starring Anne Hathaway is no surprise. While the premise could have possibly been handled better, Nicholls nonetheless gives us something new, flirtatious and hip -- the novel equivalent of a summer popcorn flick at the cinema.
One Day requires little effort, and in that light it rewards your time with a profit. It's not gourmet dining, but rather a nice, tasty treat before you move onto heavier things. B