Cricket’s mom is getting married–this is her fourth engagement–and while Cricket loves Dan Jax, her mom’s fiance, she finds it harder to relate to his two teenage daughters. She’s also worried that her mom will run before the nuptials can take place. After all, that’s what’s happened with the previous two guys. As guests arrive at a bed-and-breakfast by the sea for the impending wedding, things keep getting more complicated. Cricket picked the wrong time to go on a hiatus from her long-term boyfriend Janssen. Even though Cricket knows that change is inevitable, she can’t help wishing for some sort of constant.
Deb Caletti’s most recent offering is full of contemplative characters who are struggling with the ephemeral nature of life. Despite the similarities of the title to a Taylor Swift song, Caletti’s novel attempts to tackle some bigger issues and manages to do so somewhat successfully. Unfortunately, the novel meanders a bit too much and throws in a couple of ill-fitting subplots, making it a satisfying–but in no way spectacular–read.
Perhaps best known for creating complex characters grappling with very real-world problems, Caletti has always crafted quiet little novels that allow the characters to grow and develop. The same is true here, as Caletti has created an incredibly sympathetic lost-soul in narrator Cricket. The scenes between Cricket and her mother and brother are by far some of the book’s best. The aching feeling of childhood and nostalgia for a past that’s gone is palpable. As their little trio moves forward and prepares to merge with another family, these moments are particularly authentic.
Also notable is Caletti’s care in creating personality in the family’s dog. Cricket spends much of her time hanging out with Jupiter, and it’s clear that Caletti gets what it’s like to have a dog as a member of the family. Jupiter is as well-drawn as the book’s major human characters, and the novel is all the richer for it. The observations about dogs will resonate with readers who have spent time wondering what their pet thinks about all day.
Unfortunately, the novel falters on several points. The first is the weirdly insensitive sub-plot involving a family member’s sexual orientation. Not only is it ill-fitting within the story as a whole, but it is handled spectacularly poorly. This is jarring and a little worrisome.
However, the novel’s biggest problem is the awkward narrative device that Caletti employs throughout the story. Chapters are told partially through Cricket’s emails to her boyfriend Janssen (thus the concept of the “story of us”). While these are meant to serve as back-story to how Cricket and Janssen came to be and why she’s so worried about change the emails actually end up doing the novel a disservice. Instead of propelling the story forward, these emails bring the already relaxed plotting to a grinding halt.
Still, readers looking for a contemplative novel about love and family and the inescapable tide of change will find lots to like in this quiet novel. Summer reading for individuals who like to think hard about their books. Recommended with reservations.
The Story of Us by Deb Caletti. Simon Pulse: 2012. Borrowed copy.