The Light We Lost by Jill Santopolo

51afvclnqol-_aa300_Fiction — audiobook. Read by the author. Penguin Random House, 2017. 7 hours, 15 minutes. Library copy.

On September 11, 2001, Lucy is sitting in her classroom at Columbia University prepared to discuss Shakespeare when Gabe burst into the classroom tardy. Lucy is immediately intrigued by Gabe; so much so that she goes home to his dorm room after the TA arrives announcing that a plane has hit one of the Twin Towers.

That day, as America and the world at large changes around them, Lucy and Gabe are honest about their hopes, dreams, and fears. And while their budding relationship doesn’t last long than that one day, their blatant honesty ties them together for the next thirteen years. Years where they date, break up, marry other people, and have children.

When I posted a picture of this book on Instagram to highlight what I’m currently reading, I said that the characters in this book really needed to read ‘Marry Him’ by Lori Gottlieb, which my book club read back in February. In that book, Gottlieb urges readers attracted to men to put together a list of wants in a partner, ruthlessly cull that list from wants to needs, and then find a guy who meets those needs.

Lucy never makes that list. She breaks up with Gabe because he prioritizes his career and need to travel over their relationship, but then she marries a guy who views her career as “adorable” and constantly insists she become a stay-at-home mom.

Her husband, Darren, loves to make sweeping gestures, but Lucy hates how these gestures means he excludes her in major life decisions — picking a dog to adopt, buying a house in the Hamptons. Never mind that she ended things with Gabe because he didn’t include her in decisions about his future.

Ironically, Darren’s friends refer to Lucy as “the paper doll” because Darren did make his list. It is far more superficial list than Gottlieb suggests — he wanted a brunette woman living in Brooklyn who is between 5’2″ and 5’5″ — and problems arise in the marriage because he left off the things that mattered most to him (namely, a wife who wants to be a stay-at-home mom to several children).

But he married a woman who he thought wanted those same things, and Lucy spends most of the book stewing over how that isn’t want she wants. Wondering if she wouldn’t have been happier if she had married Gabe rather than Darren.

As you might have guessed, the whole sage of the Gabe-Lucy-Darren triangle is a high-speed train destined to crash and burn by the end. And it does so; going up in flames in the most obvious and melodramatic way.

Yet I didn’t hate the book. I was frustrated with the characters; Darren would definitely not make it past my list. But I thought the novel was well-paced given it spans thirteen years, and Santopolo’s narration of her own novel was quite good. I guess I like a train wreck more than I normally care to admit.

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