Twenty Years, Two People – “One Day” by David Nicholls
David Nicholls 2009 novel “One Day” charts the relationship/friendship between Emma and Dexter over the course of twenty years by showing the reader one specific day – July 15th – of each of those years and how the protagonists have changed.
It’s an interesting concept, if not totally unique. Writers have long played with time as an element to develop bonds and relationships.
Nicholls, however, has one thing working in his favor – He’s incredibly clever, and has a gift for writing biting/smart dialogue and a talent for finding humor in the everyday. Several passages in “One Day” made me chuckle aloud, and a few more god re-read aloud to my husband. (Including one spectacular sequence where Dexter, now a father, struggles to put his baby daughter to sleep and contemplates why babies aren’t both with the natural ability to clearly express what they want.)
Emma and Dexter aren’t perfect people. He’s arrogant, one of those guys who knows he’s good-looking and seems to view the world as a giant gallery of women he can choose from. Emma’s no saint either; Though she’s a talented writer, she whittles away her time working in a burrito restaurant rather than going after what she wants, and is self-deprecating to the point of annoying. All this doesn’t mean we don’t care about them, though. They’re fascinating characters full of both dark and light and it’s hard not to care about their respective paths. Also, there’s a supporting cast of characters who are vividly painted as well – from Emma’s unfunny stand-up comic boyfriend to Dexter’s semi-control-freak wife.
Nicholls also avoids cliche by having the day (July 15th) just be a normal day – it’s not ever a plan that they meet up on that specific day, it’s just that they’re so reliant on each other that they always come back to each other, even in times of strife.
Undoubtedly, “One Day” will be a novel that some people love and other (snobbier) people roll their eyes at. In my humble opinion, it’s terrifically entertaining and well-written, and definitely worth a read.
[The film version, starring the wonderful Miss Anne Hathaway, is in post-production right now. It’ll be interesting to see how the actors age from college to middle-aged, but hey… movie magic!]