One Day was on my birthday wishlist of books for my husband to buy. All I can say is I devoured this book, and was quite sad to see it end. Through Dex and Em’s story, author David Nicholls has nailed not only the spirit of recent decades beginning in the late 80’s, but he’s also vividly painted the meanderings of two lives as they proceed through their own decades. The result? A stunning book which cannot help but provoke the reader to reflect on his/her own life and what was, what is, and what might have been.
The story begins on July 15, 1988, when Em and Dex graduate from university. Each chapter portrays July 15th of the next year, where the reader learns what’s been happening in the two friends’ lives. The history and cultural atmosphere of the recent past decades are always tightly woven in to the story’s background, whether it’s apartheid protests, conspicuous consumption, glamorization of drug use, nightclub fever, or the Iraqi War. It very much feels like a fun traveling back to one’s own past…well, at least for those of us of a certain age. Many times throughout reading, I would say to myself, Oh yeah, I remember that and Yup, that’s exactly how it was then.
Very enjoyable and poignant for me are Dex and Em’s individual stories. Much of the time, they both make unbelievably bad decisions, but their experiences many of us have known. For instance, for a few years, Dex pretty much travels around the world adrift, not quite sure what he wants to do with his life. Likewise, Em takes a job waitressing thinking she’ll have time to write the next great novel. Their love lives are one disaster after the next, which they should have seen coming and avoided like an oncoming train. And while some might find the characters’ continued bad choices make them unlikable, I loved them just for those choices. The thing is, if one looks over a life and takes the simple facts of our choices, we all are probably unlikable characters. But just like Em and Dex, a person is really much more than the choices, and that is where the liking comes in. So, I found Em and Dex and the one-step-forward-two-steps-back trajectory of their lives profoundly true to life.
Even more delicious to me was Dex and Em’s relationship, which really had me tiptoeing through my past friendships and relationships. So many people that were what-ifs. What if I had only said this? What if I had done that? Would this friend I secretly loved have become more? Their story makes one stop and think how those little decisions really do have seismic impacts on our lives.
The ending was totally surprising and out of the blue, in a way. I suspected while reading, but couldn’t believe I could ever be right. Dex and Em’s story is a true love story, but it’s not saccharine in the least. A wonderful fun, humorous, poignant read that I wholly recommend.