By Ekta R. Garg
July 2, 2014
Rated: Bypass it
A young husband and wife decide to take drastic measures to save their marriage: they split up for a year. They use the separation as a last resort to see whether the time apart will restore the energy they need to rebuild their relationship. Along the way they take stock in their shared experiences. Taylor Jenkins Reid offers readers a dissection of a trial separation in the well-meaning but somewhat misguided novel After I Do.
Lauren and Ryan meet in college and become inseparable. Graduation brings the obvious next step of moving in together. After a five-year relationship, Ryan proposes and Lauren accepts in bliss. Their marriage will last forever and become an example for all, Lauren knows.
What starts out as the ideal situation, however, eventually devolves into bickering and backbiting. Somewhere along the way Lauren loses that breathlessness she used to feel when she would think about Ryan. Now she just feels exasperation.
Things finally get so bad that Lauren and Ryan decide to take a break for a year. They agree not to contact one another for that time, and they give one another the consent to date others. Lauren battles headiness and dread. What will this year bring her? Will she fall in love with her husband again? Will she realize they’re better apart? Was she wrong to believe so blindly in their love?
During the year Lauren spends time with her siblings and mother. She thinks she can hide her separation from her family, but the truth comes out soon enough and everyone gives their opinions. Through her time with them and their own life experiences that Lauren now shares, Lauren begins to realize that the difficult questions plaguing her relationship have no easy answers.
Everyone has a different view of love and a different process for reaching a working solution. As the months progress Lauren starts to wonder whether she’ll ever figure out what will work for her. Even if she does figure it out, will the same thing work for Ryan?
Author Taylor Jenkins Reid gives readers a novel that entertains at times but will often leave people feeling as exasperated as Lauren does with her husband. Considering the fact that Lauren is the oldest child of a broken home, her fairy tale view of her early relationship sounds almost unrealistic. Her father walked out of her life before she reached the age of five, and 25 years later she has absolutely no issues with men or trust or even what relationships can become. A person could argue that wishing for a prince to sweep her off her feet shows a possible consequence of living in a family that endured divorced. Unfortunately Lauren comes across as too smart and self-assured to get caught up in fairy tale wishes.
Also, Lauren’s siblings don’t feel three dimensional enough for readers to care much about them. Her younger sister, Rachel—her best friend by her own admission—doesn’t have much of a role to play other than float in and out of Lauren’s life to give her a shoulder to cry on. Reid obviously uses Rachel to portray one of the choices people make when it comes to love and relationships, but because readers don’t get enough information about Rachel as a person her choice doesn’t seem to matter as much more than a literary device. The same goes for Lauren’s younger brother and her mother.
Lauren’s grandmother actually becomes the sage with all the right advice, most of which Lauren deems as too old fashioned. And interestingly enough neither grandmother nor mother tell Lauren that many of her problems problem stem from the fact that she’s young—she met her husband at 19 and married him at 24. After only six years of marriage Lauren has come to the point where she can say to her husband “I’m not in love with you anymore.” What about the simple fact that love and relationships take work, that it’s about making an active, physical effort? That just because you don’t “feel” in love doesn’t mean you can’t love the person and fall back in love with him or her?
Readers get the back end of the bickering and fights between Lauren and Ryan, but most of it sounds like issues that all married couples encounter. Nothing special seems to push Lauren and Ryan to the extreme of splitting up for a year. Some may see their separation as a bold, healthy decision, but mostly it feels forced and almost unnecessary.
I recommend that readers bypass After I Do.