Saturday, December 13, 2014

Us, by David Nicholls

Douglas Petersen, the protagonist of Us, is a scientist who is a bit of a know-it-all and prig, with a tin ear for relationships. He has been married for more than 20 years to Connie, a former artist;  as the book opens, Connie has announced that she wants to end their marriage now that "their work"--raising son Albie--is "done." Douglas is stunned by her announcement and by the fact that she thinks they should go forward with their plan to take their son on a continental tour before he heads off to college.

As one might expect, the trip does not go well. Albie and Connie's extremely close relationship often excludes Douglas, who only makes matters worse with his anal devotion to scheduling and willingness to be embarrassed by his son's behavior. As they travel, Douglas is also mentally reliving his and Connie's meeting, courtship, and early years of marriage, including their first child's death in her first few hours of life. When Albie runs off and Connie decides to return home to the London suburbs, Douglas resolves to find Albie, bring him home, and win Connie back.

While this process does seem to provide Douglas with some new self-awareness, his behavior remains irritatingly unchanged. In fact, I found little to empathize with in any of the three main characters and, while some of Douglas's adventures were amusing, generally didn't care greatly for the book.

Favorite passage:
The percentage varies but some of the things I say make no sense to me at all.

Anyone who has attempted to clean away large quantities of spilt glitter will know it is a pernicious and vile substance, a kind of festive asbestos . . .

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