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Wednesday, January 15, 2020

'After I Do' by Taylor Jenkins Reid

From the BLURB:

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.

After I Do’ was the 2014 women’s fiction novel by Taylor Jenkins Reid, the second novel she wrote.

So … after loving ‘The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo’ and ‘Daisy Jones and the Six’ I decided to peek at Taylor Jenkins Reid’s backlist and see if I couldn’t get more of her sweet, sweet stories into my veins. At a glance; while her backlist is still women’s fiction, ‘Evelyn’ and ‘Daisy’ were the first two books in which Reid changed things up from suburban and ordinary family-sagas, to the lives and troubles of famous people. But in both cases (and especially prominent in ‘After I Do’) is Jenkins Reid’s preoccupation with examining the veneer of happiness, and the breaking-point at which people decided to really start examining their lives and the truth of their relationships.

‘After I Do’ for instance, is about Lauren and Ryan who’ve known each other for eleven years and been married for six, but when we meet them they’re at breaking-point. Little annoyances, grievances and nit-picks have poisoned their marriage and one night they both confront the startling realisation that they don’t like each other very much right now. For Lauren, this translates as a deep sense of disgruntlement and disappointment when Ryan’s business work-trip is cancelled and she doesn’t end up getting the time alone she craved. For Ryan, he admits that he’s started looking at other women and wondering “what if?” It’s small; but that’s their breaking-point.

Now at this stage, I’ll fully admit that Lauren and Ryan pretty quickly brushed-aside the idea of counselling or doing any real work on their marriage. They both considered ‘open marriage’, date-nights and time apart as a solution … and kind of decide to meld that into one big idea of living apart for one year. Dating other people. Not corresponding with each other. Really going their separate ways and at the end of 12-months, coming together to see if they still want to continue their marriage.

Everyone else in their life – family, friends and co-workers – pretty quickly label this a ‘trial separation’ but neither Lauren nor Ryan are keen on the idea of putting such a label on it. They genuinely want to do this to see who they are independent of each other (fair enough, since they met at 19) and if they want to continue being together – but the underlying belief from both of them is that this “time off” will definitely result in a stronger marriage.

The book is told entirely from Lauren’s POV, which works well to heighten the drama – just as she doesn’t know if Ryan is seeing other people, or how he’s coping, nor do readers. We also get a brief run-down of the start to Lauren and Ryan’s relationship through her eyes; getting the dewy romance of their teen years, which heightens the drama because we know – much like Lauren – that there is something good between them, and worth fighting for.

During her marriage sabbatical(?) I was pleased to see Lauren exploring through her friends and family, different amalgamations of relationships and marriages and how other people’s married-lives work. I also really liked that her sister stands as a character who doesn’t want a relationship right now (maybe ever) and definitely doesn’t want kids, and that Lauren checks her heteronormativity when her knee-jerk reaction is to say; “you just need to meet the right guy!” Lauren really does learn to see the myriad of ways that people exist both in relationships, and being single.

I will say that maybe the one way this novel presents itself as Jenkins Reid’s early-work is in its somewhat simplicity. Part of me wonders that if she was writing this novel *today* - she’d take it from a slightly trickier perspective (maybe from a person that Lauren or Ryan dates, who falls for them but is doomed to heartache because it’s destined to only be casual and temporary). Or what if (and I’m showing my absolute adoration for Georgie and Sam in Melina Marchetta’s ‘ThePiper’s Son’ here) either Lauren got pregnant or Sam got a woman pregnant while on this ‘year off’.

That’s maybe the one way this novel isn’t a five-star for me. In its simplicity – especially because thanks to ‘Evelyn’ and ‘Daisy Jones’, I’m a little more used to Jenkins Reid writing trickier, more grey-areas in her depictions of people and relationships.

But ‘After I Do’ is still a solid, fantastic read and I’m really glad I’m diving into her backlist. If this novel and her latest works are any indication, I’m going to really enjoy the ride!


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