I had a good case of the February blahs, and I needed some sunny reading with snappy prose and compelling plots. Enter Taylor Jenkins Reid, recommended by Anne Bogel of the What Should I Read Next? podcast. Anne describes One True Loves as “Castaway before the wedding,” and Maybe in Another Life as “a happier Sliding Doors with less cheating and more cinnamon rolls.”
Perfect. I was in.
I downloaded the latter title with my February Audible credit, and just as I’d finished listening, One True Loves came in for me on the hold shelf at the library. So, here’s a dual review – my thoughts on two by Taylor Jenkins Reid.
Maybe In Another Life
Hannah Martin has spent her twenties resisting putting down roots, moving from city to city, hoping to feel magically “at home.” Finally, at 29 and recently out of a tumultuous relationship, Hannah moves back to Los Angeles, where she spent her teens with best friend, Gabby, and first love, Ethan. On her first night back on the town, Gabby and Ethan join Hannah at a bar. Midnight rolls around and Hannah has to choose: should she stay out with Ethan or go home with Gabby? The choice sets two different stories in motion: in one she stays with Ethan, and in the other, she heads home. This seemingly innocuous choice has far-reaching implications. Reid tells both stories in alternating vignettes and encourages readers to consider whether life is “meant to be” or “what we make it.”
Reid’s prose is smooth and skimmable. It’s smart, but not taxing. The sentences read well, and the dialogue is convincing. In short, there’s nothing to trip over. Reid uses specific touchpoints – cinnamon rolls, Hannah’s omnipresent high bun – to help orient readers in the two different narrative threads.
One True Loves
I know this plot sounds ridiculous, but during the reading of it, I totally bought in. Here’s the deal: Emma Blair grows up in a cozy Massachusetts town, the daughter of the local bookstore owners. In high school, she falls in love with Jesse, a champion swimmer with a penchant for world travel. The two – “perfect for each other” – move far away after graduation, savoring every opportunity for adventure.
Then, A year after their wedding, Jesse’s helicopter goes down over the Pacific, and he’s presumed dead. Emma understandably loses it. Slowly, though, she accepts Jesse’s death as fact, grieves, moves home, and eventually starts to rebuild. She meets Sam, an old acquaintance from her high school days, who becomes her next true love.
It’s just months after Emma and Sam’s engagement that Jesse resurfaces – he’s alive. And, he’s coming home to his wife.
I had the same pleasant experience as in reading Maybe in Another Life; although, this novel is even more plot driven. As such, I found myself flipping pages rather quickly. Some of Emma’s introspection went by the wayside for me as I raced to find out which of her “true loves” she’d choose in the end. The management of the plot required Reid to summarize large swaths of time in interesting ways. I enjoyed the extended second-person re-telling of the years after Jesse’s disappearance, for instance. By the end, Reid rather hits you over the head with the theme – There’s no such thing as just “one true love.” I was interested, but I got it already.
The Bottom Line
These two breezy novels with fast-moving plots and satisfying writing fit my winter-blahs bill. Taylor Jenkins Reid, like Elin Hilderbrand and Jennifer Weiner, is a writer I’ll return to for sure. Looking for a place to start? I’d recommend Maybe in Another Life as the book to try first of these two. For me, it carried a bit more emotional weight alongside its beach-perfect veneer.
Have you read Taylor Jenkins Reid or know another writer I should add to my vacation-reading bullpen? Leave me a comment! I’d love to know!