It is said that reading can take you to places, and this is true, but it can also take you away from places. Such was the case when Husband and I ended up at Castle Rock County Park campground in Adams County on the Saturday of Labor Day weekend. Not having any reservations for the holiday weekend we threw caution to the wind and the tent in the car and set out with a vague idea of where we would end up. We are campers of the state park variety. We like to pitch our tent in a little nest of seclusion and enjoy a hike or two during our stay. Neither of this was available at the only campground that would have us that night. Nestled tightly between an RV that looked as if it was a down on your luck residence (turns out it was) and a site that was inhabited by a man seemingly on a quest for solitude but who kept wandering over (more like leaning over) to visit with us I was starting to question the wisdom of our spontaneous adventure. I was ready to turn around and come home, but Husband was committed. In a fit of desperation I got my camp chair out, faced in the only direction that didn’t include a view of the neighbors (but did include a wonderful view of the vents for the campground septic system) and buried myself in the novel I was reading. It did the trick.
One Day, by David Nicholls, is the story of two people who come together on their last night of university (it’s a British book) and forge a friendship that lasts over two decades. Emma and Dexter are very different. Emma is sensible, kind, very funny and achingly insecure. Dexter is handsome, privileged, aimless and rather a clod at times. Emma is in love with Dexter and Dexter is in love with Emma but for all the reasons that could exist they don’t get together, at least for most of those twenty years. The author uses a great plot device for revealing the story of these two characters. He picks one day of the year, July 15th and meets up with the characters on this same day for twenty years. It is not a great literary work, but it is an engrossing read. Emma struggles for years to find her niche, while Dexter has jobs, money, women and fame fall in his lap. Eventually Emma finds her way and after a fall from grace (and the fast life) so does Dexter. There is relative peace and then there is almost unbearable sadness.
By the time I got to that part, we had moved to another campground, this one a state park at which we got our secluded site with our own little slice of secluded beach. I no longer had to be transported somewhere else but could not resist the pull of the story. Reading late into the night by the light of a battery operated lantern, I threw the book down at one point, unable to bear what was happening. It’s not like I haven’t read a sad book before, but Nicholls was able to lay bare the capriciousness of life and the ensuing grief that results in a way that cut to the quick. I didn’t want to read anymore but I didn’t want the book to end either. When outrageously high winds woke us up in the middle of night and forced us to fight like crazy to keep our tent from caterwauling into the woods all I could think about was that book. When the relentless winds persuaded us to take refuge in our car, I was tempted to take the lantern and book with me but I knew it would keep Husband up and we were already hours behind in sleep. Unable to fall asleep I thought and thought about what had just happened in the book and what would happen next. The next day after getting home I finished the book, sitting on my couch with Husband next to me, tears streaming down my face.
Husband picked up the book right after I finished it. As I write this he is just about to the point in the story where I threw down the book. I watch him to gage his reaction. I wait for the tears. I know there will be tears.