Reviewer Wally Wood: Wally is an editor and writer, has published three novels, Getting Oriented:A Novel about Japan, The Girl in the Photo an Death in a Family Business. He obtained his MA in creative writing in 2002 from the City University of New York and has worked with a number of authors as a ghostwriter and collaborator.
With an extensive background in a variety of business subjects, his credits include twenty-one nonfiction books. He spent twenty-five years as a trade magazine reporter and editor and has been a volunteer writing and business teacher in state and federal prisons for more than twenty years. He has finished his fourth novel and has translated a collection of Japanese short stories into English.
Author: David Nicholls
Publisher: Harper Paperbacks
A good friend passed along Us by David Nicholls, saying she thought I would enjoy it. She knows my taste. The book is laugh-out-loud hilarious, interestingly constructed, and ultimately satisfying. I wouldn't go as far as the Independent's blurb on the back cover ("A perfect book"), but I recommend it for the story and for the way Nicholls tells it. I'm not alone. Other readers enjoyed Us. At this writing, the novel has something like 240 five-star reviews on Amazon. Which made me wonder about the opinions of the handful of people who gave it one or two stars. Did they read the same book?
One reader wrote, "I found this book to be long [almost 400 pages] and boring and the main character to be pathetic."
And not only the main character. Another disappointed reader asked, "It is not enough to have a son raised without discipline and as a result no respect for himself or anyone around him? Add to it a wife who has no respect for her husband and constantly teams up with their son to demean him . . . "
A similar opinion: "I found the main characters unrealistic, particularly the husband. Nobody can be passive and agreeable . . . "
One more: "Slow-moving anti-capitalism and anti-child discipline novel written by a disgruntled Brit. Waste of time and money, and highly over-rated by the media." Oh, sure; blame the media.
I like to read Amazon's one- and two-star reviews because (a) you can be pretty sure that in their way they're objective; the the author's friends didn't write them, and (b) these people say what they truly think: "Boring writing. Boring protagonist. Couldn't wait to finish this book so that it was over."
As a response to all this negativity, let me give you a few examples of why I thoroughly enjoyed Us. We are at a vegetarian buffet in Amsterdam with the narrator, Douglas; his wife, Connie; his son, Albie; and taken there by Cat, a girl busker with whom the son has connected: "'Isn't it incredible? Who needs meat?' said Cat who, the last time I saw her, had been stuffing her rucksack with bacon like some crazed taxidermist."
In the course of the novel, the Douglas flashes back to memories of his marriage: "Connie was an undeservedly confident driver and owned a battle-scarred old Volvo with moss growing in the window frames and forest floor of crisp packets, cracked cassette cases and old A-to-Zs. She drove with a kind of belligerent sloppiness, changing the music more often than she changed gear, so that tensions were already quite high as we pulled up outside my family home . . ."
And sprinkled throughout are Nicholls observations that caused me to stop and reflect: ". . . it occurred to me that perhaps grief is as much regret for what we have never had as sorrow for what we have lost." "We think we have independence and imagination, but we have no more freedom to roam than trams on rails." "From an evolutionary point of view, most emotions—fear, desire, anger—serve some practical purpose, but nostalgia is a useless, futile thing because it is a longing for something that it permanently lost . . . "
I am delighted my friend passed Us along to me. I can only recommend it to you.