Ben and Elsie Ross are, perhaps, like every other newlywed couple: perfectly content in each other's company, a little giddy with joy, and utterly convinced that they are just embarking on the beginning of a lifelong adventure. But all that --- the contentment, the joy, the optimism --- evaporates in a second when a simple, even silly, errand to the grocery store results in Ben's instantaneous death and Elsie's new reality as a 26-year-old widow.
Exacerbating Elsie's position --- not to mention her anger --- is the fact that many people, including her own parents and Ben's mother Susan, didn’t even know the couple was married. They'd met only six months before Ben's death and eloped to Las Vegas just a few days earlier. At the hospital, Elsie is confronted with a mother-in-law who questions the validity of her relationship with Ben and disputes her assertions about his last wishes. Attending the funeral, meeting for the first time Ben's family members who are still strangers to her, even makes Elsie start to question her rights as his widow. How well can we really know and love someone in six months, after all?
"Throughout the novel, Jenkins Reid offers not only a bittersweet portrayal of true love but also plenty of reflections on what it means, sentiments that will ring true for many readers."
The answer, as Taylor Jenkins Reid movingly illustrates, is pretty darn well. Although the reader doesn't know Ben at all before his death, we come to know him --- and understand his and Elsie's brief but intense relationship --- through flashbacks that are interspersed with chapters detailing Elsie's grief process. Jenkins Reid cleverly ties these sections together through shared imagery; Elsie hears an anecdote or comes across an object of Ben's, for example, and then readers learn about that anecdote or object's significance through a flashback.
We also learn more about Elsie herself through the relationships she maintains or develops in the wake of Ben's death. From the old man who frequents the library where she works to her invariably loyal best friend, Ana, to Susan, with whom she eventually forms a relationship built on shared loss, among other things, these people who fill Elsie's life start to show readers --- even before Elsie realizes it herself --- that she's going to be able to survive just fine.
Throughout the novel, Jenkins Reid offers not only a bittersweet portrayal of true love but also plenty of reflections on what it means, sentiments that will ring true for many readers. When Elsie bewails the fact that she only had six months to get to know Ben and nine days in which to be his wife, Susan (who has also lost her husband) says, "Sweetheart, I'm telling you, you love someone like that, you love them the right way, and no time would be enough. It doesn't matter if you had thirty years…. It wouldn't be enough." Readers will sympathize with Elsie as she tends her broken heart and cheer for her as she begins to imagine a life after the love of her life.
Reviewed by Norah Piehl on July 26, 2013
- Publication Date: July 9, 2013
- Genres: Fiction
- Paperback: 352 pages
- Publisher: Washington Square Press
- ISBN-10: 1476712824
- ISBN-13: 9781476712826