Tag Archives: 1988

The Power of Love

One Day: A Novel by David Nicholls (Vintage Contemporaries, $14.95, 448 pages)

Twenty years.   Two people.   ONE DAY

“(She was) unable to recall a time when she felt happier.”

“…he is more or less where he wants to be…  Everything will be fine, just as long as nothing ever changes.”

Sometimes we need to wait until the right time to read a particular book.   I received a review copy of this novel, which had already become the #1 bestselling book in England and throughout most of Europe, in early 2010 (it was released in trade paper form in the U.S. on June 15, 2010).   But it didn’t strike me as something that urgently needed to be read…  That is, until I read that Anne Hathaway had agreed to play the female lead in the upcoming film version, with Jim Sturgess as the male lead.   Knowing that Hathaway has a skill for finding great scripts, I felt that the time had come.

This is the story of two people, Emma Morley and Dexter Mayhew, who meet cute on their graduation night (called “university graduation” in England) and spend the entire evening together.   They plan to commence a sexual relationship the next day; a plan which is forsaken due to some unexpected circumstances – something unexplained until the later pages of the story.   So, instead, they vow to be friends.   Dexter is to become Emma’s true male friend, but not boyfriend.

Nicholls tells the story, a very remarkable love story, by having us look in on the happenings of Emma’s and Dexter’s lives on the same date – July 15th – of each year.   The story begins on July 15, 1988, and concludes on July 15, 2007.   No spoiler alert is needed here, as no details will be revealed about what occurs to Emma and Dexter over the decades.   Let’s just say that the reader will be surprised.

I don’t want to play coy, so I will state that this is likely the best pure love story that I have read – it’s a tale that tugs at our heartstrings even while it makes us laugh.   And it will definitely bring tears prior to its dramatic and life-affirming ending.   It’s all the more remarkable that Nicholls, a man, writes with such a huge heart about life and love.

What can be revealed is that Emma and Dexter, despite their class differences (Dexter was born wealthy, Emma lower-middle class), know that they would be perfect for each other…  Maybe.   But each one faces too many temptations in the form of other people, and each thinks that the other wants different things out of life.   So despite their vow to be close forever, they begin to slide away from each other as they encounter life’s often not-so-gentle surprises.

“Everyone likes me.   It’s my curse.”

A few cautions…  Please disregard those who compare One Day to When Harry Met Sally (“Can a man and woman be best friends?”).   One Day is more adult and serious, and English humor is quite distinct from American humor; to me, it is, thankfully, more subtle.   That comparison caused me to hold off on reading this novel, which was unfortunate.   And if Dexter’s personality, early on, sounds a bit like Dudley Moore’s over-the-top character in the film Arthur, don’t worry, it will pass.   Dexter matures with age.

“…I can barely hear the compilation tape you made me which I like a lot incidentally except for that jangly indie stuff because after all I’m not a GIRL.”

There are many references to period music in the telling, which is both positive and not so positive.   (Emma can spend an entire day making the right mix tape.)   References to songs like “Tainted Love” make one smile; however, the numerous references to Madonna’s music wind up becoming painful in their datedness.

This is a novel that is stunning – so much so that on finishing it, I was both eager and fearful of reading it again one day.   (My response was to purchase the unabridged audiobook version, so that it’s there on the shelf if and when the urge strikes me to revisit it.)   This is simply a great story about two people who must decide which is better or worse:  the fear of confronting happiness, or the fear of never actually encountering it.   The message it delivers is a gift.   Please consider taking it.

Highly recommended.

Joseph Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.   “Big, absorbing, smart, fantastically readable.”   Nick Hornby   “A totally brilliant book…  Every reader will fall in love with it.”   Tony Parsons   “A wonderful, wonderful book: wise, funny, perceptive, compassionate…”   The Times (London)

One of the most hilarious and emotionally riveting love stories you’ll ever encounter.”   People

Note:  The film version of One Day will be released on August 19, 2011.

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Our House

No Place Like Home: A Memoir in 39 Apartments by Brooke Berman (Harmony Books, $23.00, 251 pages)

“There are so many times I have asked the question: Am I home?

This is a fun one that will remind adult readers of the struggling times in their twenties, looking for stability, romance and a  place that feels like home.   Brooke Berman tells about her period as a struggling young playwright and writer in Manhattan and Brooklyn during the period from 1998 through the summer of 2002.   It was in these years that the chronically  penniless Berman lived in 39 different apartments.

One thing that’s entertaining about this memoir is learning about the language of real estate in New York City.   There are terms like floor-through apartments, couch-surf, railroad flat (I once lived in one in Los Angeles) and 420 friendly.   OK, the latter term is not actually mentioned by Berman but she made apartment shopping in Manhattan and Brooklyn sound so interesting that I came upon the term online.

Note:  420 friendly means that one’s prospective roommates smoke pot and want their new tenant to be cool with that.

There’s also the reminder of what it’s like to be without money among people of prosperity.   Part of the experience, for Berman, is a good one:  “When I’m struggling, I know what to do and who to be:  I don’t spend money…  When I have money, I am forced to make choices.”   I recall a friend who in college said, “I feel pure when, as a struggling student, I have no money.   It feels better than when I do have money and I feel like I’ve done something wrong.”

But because Berman was raised by a stylish mother in the fashion industry in Michigan, she also knows how far she’s fallen…

“I was the only eight-year-old in the Detroit suburbs who could speak on Giorgio Armani’s fall line.  …now I feel like I come more from Avenue A.   From the poppy-seed cafe and dance workshops, downtown sublets and unmatched clothes, care of Salvation Armani.”

That should give you a hint of Berman’s humor which is laced through more serious things.   During this period she seems to be extremely unlucky in love, always choosing the guy who’s exactly wrong for her.   It’s as if she has a personal radar system for finding Not the Right Guy or Mr. Wrong.   There’s also the fact of having to deal with her mother’s illness and apparent demise after not one but two kidney transplant operations:  “My mother’s death is the thing I have been most afraid of my entire life…  The fear of (her) death is more threatening to me, and more primal, than anything.”

Brooke’s mother’s illness seems to stand as a symbol of the things that have gone wrong in Brooke’s life:  “I want to feel better, too.”

While this is an engaging memoir, it does have one disturbing flaw.   Like Julie Metz in her memoir Perfection, Berman tells us far more about her sex life (with whom she did what, and exactly what) than we’d care to know.   Too much information, girl, way too much.   Is there some type of anti-privacy virus going around that makes  people disclose everyone they’ve gotten next to in their lives?

And, yet, the true tale ends with Berman living happily ever after in perfect city abodes, with the perfect “forever” partner and the long dreamt of career.   Who says that modern fairy tales don’t come true?

Recommended.

“To deny change is to deny life.   And the present moment contains miracles.  …I can say now that I have many homes.”

A review copy was received from the publisher.   Thanks to Elaine at Wink Public Relations (wink pr) for her assistance.

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The Yugo

The Yugo by Jason Vuic (Hill and Wang, March 2010)

“Yugoslavia should be proud of this small car.   Everyone will be talking about it in the United States.”   Malcolm Bricklin

Everyone did wind up talking about the Yugo in the United States in the 1980s, if not for the reason intended by the shifty entrepreneur Malcolm Bricklin.   In writing this nonfiction tale of the Yugo’s introduction into the U.S., Jason Vuic had the opportunity to appeal to two audiences.   One audience consists of car buffs, people who cannot acquire enough knowledge of automobiles of the past or present – and who buy the major automobile magazines each month to take sneak peeks at the cars coming down the line.

The second audience is the group that loves human interest stories.   In this case, the book might have consisted of stories of people who actually purchased Yugos and what that meant in their lives.   Did they enjoy them?   Did they love or hate them?   Did they have near-death experiences in them?

Unfortunately, Vuic’s account reaches neither audience in a way that will prove satisfactory.   There’s not a whole lot of detail in terms of the design, engineering or manufacturing of the ill-fated car (other than descriptions of it as a modified Fiat).   More surprisingly, there is not a single account in The Yugo that puts the reader in the place of someone who owned the car.   But this is not the biggest fault with this account.

The story of the Yugo, even more than the story of the Chevrolet Corvair so well detailed by a then-young Ralph Nader, is a story of danger.   The Yugo was a car that produced 3.6 deaths for every 10,000 cars sold.   It was an extremely lightweight tin can that weighed just 1,832 pounds.   Even though it did not share the road with today’s SUVs and light trucks, it nevertheless was clearly too light to be safe.

Let’s put this in context.   The Yugo’s 1,800-plus pounds compares quite unfavorably to today’s smallest vehicles.   A Toyota Yaris weighs 2,400 pounds, a Mini Cooper between 2,550 and 2,750 pounds, and a Volkswagen New Beetle weighs between 2,900 and 3,000 pounds.   But these are cars with steel safety cages and crumple zones that were not even dreamt of back in the days of the Yugo.

Vuic is correct when he writes that, “people have come to expect so much more than the Yugo deliver(ed),” especially in terms of safety.   How badly built was the Yugo?   When the impacts of a collision in a Yugo at just 5 miles-an-hour were tested, the car suffered $2,197 worth of damage; over half the car’s original value of $3,990!

Sadly, it is only when the reader is nine-tenths of the way through Vuic’s account that he/she finds an account of the tragic death of Leslie Ann Phulac.   Phulac died when she drove her Yugo off the Mackinac Bridge in Michigan – a 199-foot high bridge.   She was in the air a full 6 seconds before she hit the water.   Sixty-four million drivers had passed over the bridge without incident.

The account of Phulac’s death is where this book should have begun not ended.   The Yugo was not a funny or silly car despite the author’s light-hearted tone; it was a poorly designed and manufactured death trap.   Yugo, in fact, was sued by the “Yugos” litigation group of the Association of Trial Lawyers of America because the car was unsafe.

The Yugo met its demise in 1988, when dealers in the U.S. had a 133-day backlog of unsold cars.   This substantiated Abraham Lincoln’s claim that you can fool some of the people some of the time, but in the end the public proves wise to the game.

It’s worth restating that the lack of stories from Yugo owners in The Yugo is a major deficiency.   These might have been funny or sad (especially in the instances involving relatives of the almost 4 deaths per 10,000 owners), but would surely have been engaging.   Real people lost money on these things and had their lives endangered.   Their safety was very significantly compromised.

Vuic’s telling of the quick rise and predictable fall of the Yugo might have made – if very sharply edited – for a quite fascinating airline magazine article.   But it veers off course far too often in its 213 pages of actual content, especially when comparisons are made to the Ford Edsel.   The Edsel may have been unattractive, but it was a safe and well-built vehicle.   The Yugo was far from being “The Edsel of the Eighties.”

Vuic does get it right at one point, the point at which he writes that, “…the Yugo is the worst car in history.”   Enough said.

Reprinted courtesy of the New York Journal of Books.

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