by Kristan Higgins
The stars are not wanted now; put out every one,
Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun,
Pour away the ocean and sweep up the wood;
For nothing now can ever come to any good.
from “Funeral Blues” by W.H.Auden
I knew I was in trouble when my throat started to close up on page two. Kristan goes further down a darker path that is leading her books away from the touching yet hilarious and witty romantic comedies that she built her early reputation on. This book is a deep exploration of the grief and pain of losing a beloved spouse way too young. Letters are both the basis and the jumping-off point of how Kristan tells the story.
After the devasting loss of 31-year-old Josh’s lovely 28-year-old wife to a terminal illness, we go with him on his journey for a little over a year afterward. Lauren has left him 12 letters one for each month to be opened after her death. In each loving missive, she gives him a task that is meant to help him heal. The first one is to go to the grocery store by himself. The last one is to find another woman with whom to share his life (and she has someone in mind.) Lauren’s letters to Josh move the story forward and Lauren’s private letters to her beloved dead father fill us in on the past. Interestingly those take us from 8 days before her death backward to when Lauren was 18 and first met Josh.
Although Josh is a genius who became a millionaire at age 18 with his patents for cutting edge medical devices, he is also “on the spectrum”, as they say now, with Asperger syndrome. Without his beloved Lauren, he is lonely and lost. More so than a typical widower would be. He has no friends of his own and doesn’t function well in social situations. . Lauren was his love, but also his guide. And in turn, Lauren worshiped the ground he walked on. He has plenty of support among his own family and Lauren’s friends and family who are all devoted to him. He is so vulnerable although Kristan wisely does not make a huge issue of his disability. Most of the book is from Josh’s point of view and we see signs of the “neurodiversity” in his thoughts and actions, but we are not hit over the head with it. It is handled beautifully and contributes humor as well as pathos to the story.
The other thing that Kristan handled beautifully is Josh and Lauren’s incandescent love, their pain and grief, Lauren’s physical struggles with and progression of her disease, IPF, and her death. From what I know of Kristan, she has not personally experienced all of these things but one would never know it, so authentic and heartrending is her writing concerning them. I kept pausing in my reading marveling how she could possibly know what she knew unless she knew. If that makes any sense.
We get to know and be invested in all of the people in Josh’s life after Lauren. This book is not all sadness and pain. There are some classic Kristan Higgins scenes and people. Pebbles, the dog. Josh’s dinner party. Gertie the Medium and what happens when Josh and his surrogate father Ben visit her is my favorite. How anyone’s life could not be changed by such an encounter, I don’t understand. There are other favorites as well, one of which I can’t mention because it would be too much of a spoiler. But it is the task Lauren gives Josh in month 10. Radley, Josh’s first real guy friend. And I love the hapless waitress Josh keeps encountering from chapter 11 on. I wish we had had much more of her. She would fit right into one of Kristan’s earlier romantic comedies. And we are blessed with a “3 years later” epilogue.
It’s hard to give a rating for this book, because as beautiful, insightful, and touching as it is, there is too much sadness and pain for me personally, even though it is leavened with humor throughout. The good news is, that Kristan’s next book has to be happier because she couldn’t get any more sad, right?**4.25 stars**
June 12, 2021