Dex and Em make an unlikely duo: Dexter is a casual student who comes from a privileged background and is always ready to party, while Emily is smart and idealistic, and has always had to work hard to get by. On the day of their graduation from college in 1988, the two have a one night stand. Despite their opposite personalities that day marks the beginning of a lifelong friendship that eventually turns into a romantic relationship. The story takes place on that same date over the course of the next twenty years.
Soon after it was published, One Day was enthusiastically recommended by commenters on several of the websites I frequent. It also made an appearance on many major publications’ Best of 2010 lists. Plus, considering it was released less than a year ago, the book is relatively inexpensive in both print and electronic form. All these factors led me to pick up the book.
This was my first time reading something by David Nicholls. He’s a good writer, but save for a handful of scenes, as a reader I never felt compelled to make an emotional investment in the book. As the plot progressed, I grew more frustrated with the characters. Regardless of the status of their friendship, which at times veers toward nonexistent, Dex and Em have a lifelong dependency on one another. Dex, in particular, is a difficult character. After college, he becomes a TV personality. He’s always been self-centered, but his obsession with youth and fame kicks into high gear, and his relationship with Emily suffers because of it. I have no problem with vain, sycophantic characters in literature. I do have a problem when their nonstop whining encompasses have a book.
For such an intelligent and self-sufficient person, Emily is also inexplicably needy. It’s understandable–to a certain extent–that she would put up with Dexter’s insufferable behavior; if you’ve invested a lot in a friendship, you’re willing to put up with a lot more than you would a casual acquaintance. But there’s a limit. She does try to put her foot down at one point, but one can’t help but that scene felt like a contrived event written solely to extend the drama of their relationship. Even more troubling is how Emily’s voice gets written out of the story. Although both narratives get an equal amount of time at the beginning of the book, by the end everything is about Dexter, even Emily’s narratives.
There’s a plot twist in the book, but aside from that, One Day failed to catch my attention. I never felt emotionally invested in the story, and Dexter’s insufferable sense of entitlement did not help matters much. I wouldn’t necessarily say I was bored by the book; I read it for long periods at a time without a problem and finished it in a few days. Unfortunately, I just felt like a passive observer the entire time.