fiction / literary fiction

With or Without You by Caroline Leavitt

I have read all Caroline Leavitt’s books since I was in high school in the late ’90s so I was excited to read this one.

I follow her on Twitter so I knew it was a loose fictionalization of the author’s own coma experience so that intrigued me. She said that she had been in a coma after the birth of her child and that no one could really tell her what it was like or what happened. How unsettling!

I loved that it was the story of two people in their early forties who have had a pleasant life together but are now wondering what was next. Simon is a working musician who gets sidelined when his very long term girlfriend, Stella ends up in a coma after some heavy drinking and taking a pill of dubious origin. I appreciated the peek into this sort of life. How they got to live in the now gentrified neighborhood they did on a musician and nurse’s salary.

I felt like the prose was slightly stilted. Even as it switched between the three main characters, I felt like we were kept at a distance which I didn’t enjoy. I liked the characters and enjoyed reading about their lives and struggles but I felt somewhat removed from them versus being emotionally involved in their struggle. Even though the stakes in the book were high (coma! infidelity! unemployment!) nothing really felt immediate. I felt like I was just drifting along with them. It might have been intentional, as I would argue that the couple at the heart of the novel must have done a lot of drifting during their 20+ year relationship–they seemingly were still dancing around major life decisions like buying their apartment and having children well into their 40s–but it had the effect of somewhat damping my investment in what happened next. I really did enjoy the book a lot but it didn’t have that immediacy I felt in her earlier work.

It really was a coming of age novel but with adults in their forties. A fun concept and one I’d like to see more of now that I am 40 myself. The dealing with parents, not being as “settled” as perhaps previous generations were at that decade is a topic that seems ripe for expiration.

Thanks to  Algonquin Books for inviting me to participate in this blog tour and for approving me on Netgalley for an ARC.

Here are her virtual tour dates!

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