Author: Taylor Jenkins Reid
Publisher: Atria Books
Date: July 2014
Buy the Book • Goodreads
From the author of Forever, Interrupted—hailed by Sarah Jio as "moving, gorgeous, and at times heart-wrenching"—comes 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.
“Lauren, I love you more than I’ve loved anything in my life. You are the reason I was put on this earth. You make me happier than anything I’ve ever known. I cannot live without you.” He was smiling, and yet the edges of his mouth were starting to pull in and quiver. His voice started to lose its confidence. It became shaky. I noticed a group ahead of us had turned around. The pack of kids a few stairs behind Ryan had stopped and were waiting.
“Lauren,” he said, now barely hiding his emotion, “will you marry me?”
When I first heard of Taylor Jenkins Reid I read through all of her book synopsis’ and thought ‘I don’t know if I can handle any of these …‘ with good reason. Her stories focus on an absolute low point or extremely difficult change in the characters life, but I find them thought provoking and vicariously living through them cathartic. One of the best things about After I Do is its lack of manufactured drama. There were a few occasions where I was anticipating a certain kind of event to take place, as I think in many novels with this kind of scenario it would have, but it never did. This resulted in a story that felt more true to life, honored the characters, and didn’t manipulate the readers emotions unnecessarily. The early part of the book is a highlight tour of Ryan and Lauren from their first meeting at age nineteen through their dating years and first six years of marriage. She really captures how in love and adoring of each other they were. Their first date made me smile. I loved Ryan. I loved them as a couple. This is all background and set up for the current day story, which is about two people who believe they have fallen out of love, do not desire each other, and for the most part don’t do anything but get on the others nerves. It sounds dire, it’s also something I think anyone married a significant number of years can relate to feeling at least now and again. Ryan and Lauren are feeling it all the time. The saddest part of this is knowing how adorable and infatuated with each other they once were.
The current day portion focuses on their attempt to fix themselves and their marriage by parting ways for a year without communicating or seeing each other that entire time, the purpose being to get out from under each others skin and figure out what they are really feeling before reuniting and seeing where they each stand. Are they out of love or not? What went wrong? Despite their daily dislike of each other when the moment comes for one to leave you can see it is killing them. Those feelings that creep up at the last minute that it’s a mistake. The sudden desire to hold on to a situation that is making you miserable. The heartbreak of letting go of something that once meant so much. Feelings of loss, failure, and loneliness. Wondering if the other will meet someone they want more than you. The sadness and the tears are relatable and I already really hoped and longed for them to reunite come the end of the story. I was impressed with how thoughtful and realistic this was as well as the range of emotion brought forth. Despite being about a couple who had fallen out of love, I truly felt the swoons and the romance during all the parts they did. When either expressed what was bothering them about the other I usually empathized or agreed. Both could be insensitive or petty and it didn’t make me dislike them, it showed them as real flawed adults lashing out under strain. Some things happen in their time apart readers may have issue with, but honestly I felt it a necessary part of the separation experiment given their feelings about each other.
Lauren’s mother, sister, brother, grandmother, and closest friend all feature heavily in the story during their year apart. Through them we explore experiences with broken homes and life-long marriages, one night stands and unexpected pregnancy, how children affect relationships, and those persons who have no interest in romantic attachment at all and how out-of-step that makes them feel in a world bent on coupledom. All get their moment and say as Lauren tries to figure out where things went wrong and what she wants come the end. They also have differing opinions about how Lauren and Ryan have chosen to tackle their problem (readers who think taking a year off and seeing other people is a big mistake will be on grandma’s team), but all are united in their love and support for the couple.
The scenario at the heart of this book is, I think, as common as it is sad. I was really happy with ending and probably don’t want to say more than that as as this story is all about the journey. While this isn’t for everyone, if the premise intrigues you and you can handle the angst, I’d recommend it.