Also by this author: Maybe in Another Life, One True Loves, The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo, Forever, Interrupted, Daisy Jones & The Six
Published by Washington Square Press on July 1st 2014
Pages: 352 •Goodreads
When Lauren and Ryan’s marriage reaches the breaking point, they come up with an unconventional plan. They decide to take a year off in the hopes of finding a way to fall in love again. One year apart, and only one rule: they cannot contact each other. Aside from that, anything goes.
Lauren embarks on a journey of self-discovery, quickly finding that her friends and family have their own ideas about the meaning of marriage. These influences, as well as her own healing process and the challenges of living apart from Ryan, begin to change Lauren’s ideas about monogamy and marriage. She starts to question: When you can have romance without loyalty and commitment without marriage, when love and lust are no longer tied together, what do you value?
This is a love story about what happens when the love fades. It’s about staying in love, seizing love, forsaking love, and committing to love with everything you’ve got. And above all, After I Do is the story of a couple caught up in an old game—and searching for a new road to happily ever after.
“Ryan and I are two people who used to be in love.
What a beautiful thing to have been.
What a sad thing to be.” – After I Do, Page 60
After I Do is the third TJR novel I’ve read, and she’s firmly been added as an auto-buy author for me. Sure, she writes what some people may consider “chick-lit,” but her novels contain an honesty and profundity that I have honestly NEVER come across with any other author. I’d heard consistently from my fellow bloggers that After I Do is TJR’s best work, and it did not disappoint, being one of the most intricately written and moving reads I’ve come across in 2017 so far.
In my opinion, TJR’s strength lies in the details of her novels, specifically in those of the breakdown or dissolution of relationships. After I Do begins with a rather compact history of Lauren and Ryan’s first decade of knowing each other that still manages to feel comprehensive and shows the tiny cracks that form in their relationships that then lead to major fissures. By the time the narrative hits the present, there’s so much vitriol in their relationship that I felt residual anxiety from reading about their interactions. Though the trial separation happens between Ryan and Lauren relatively early on in the novel, I felt as though I’d experienced a lifetime with them already.
Told through both Lauren’s narrative and email drafts between the couples, I loved how raw and unfiltered the thoughts and dialogue became, as Ryan and Lauren were both so brutally honest about what they truly hated about each other. Sometimes while reading the email drafts between them I was cringing FOR them, but they were also the most captivating part of the narrative to read.
I was also surprised that while the obvious, major focus of this novel is the relationship between Lauren and Ryan, the time they spent apart focused a LOT on Lauren’s self-discovery, as well as reevaluating her roles as a daughter, grand-daughter, and sister. Marriages and serious relationships can make your life so insular without you even realizing it, and even though she was always very close with her family, it was so interesting to see how taking a step away from her marriage made her realize how much she was STILL missing from their lives, even when she saw them nearly every day. I loved that TJR acknowledges that when you marry someone you truly marry their family, but also that when you get married it forever changes the dynamic that you have with your immediate family as well.
“Isn’t it nice,” he says, “once you’ve outgrown the ideas of what life should be and you just enjoy what it is?”– After I Do, Page 184
A huge theme in this novel that I want to talk about for a second is that of expectations. Is it fair to expect that the person you fall in love with is the same person they were ten years ago? Do you really expect yourself to be? Is life better or worse off for not having lived up to every expectation and dream and plan that you had for it? The quote above resonated with me SO MUCH not just from a relationship standpoint, but from an adult standpoint (honestly this book is SO QUOTABLE all the way through). I’m blessed to have a pretty fantastic life, but it’s very different than what I expected, 10, 5, or even 2 years ago. Sometimes letting go of those expectations is one of the kindest things you can do for yourself, because they’re actually hurting you more than they’re helping.
Obviously a major question while reading this book is when/will they get back together? I found that my opinion of whether I wanted them to or not constantly changed throughout the course of the book, and Jenkins-Reid did such a great job of putting me in Lauren’s shoes that I felt her uncertainty in making the decisions (to be honest, I think I was even MORE angry/bitter than Lauren was at times, haha). I’ve been with my boyfriend for a very long time since a very young age however, so I really connected with the idea of the pain of losing someone who you’ve spent nearly half of your life with, and how rebuilding yourself as a person after a loss like that would be a MAJOR endeavor. By the end of the book I think I was honestly OK with whatever decision Ryan and Lauren came too, as I had been on such a journey with them and felt like the reasons and feelings behind either decision were so well (and subtly) communicated to the reader that I could have been at peace either way.
Overall: After I Do was a phenomenal read. It’s hard to really think of Lauren and Ryan as a fictional couple because the emotions, nuances, and details of their relationship were so intricate and exhaustive…TJR is truly a master of relationship writing. While Maybe in Another Life beats this one out as my favorite TJR novel, After I Do is one that I know I’ll be returning to again and again over the years, and will probably gather and glean different perspectives and messages from it with each reading.