I'm not sure how I stumbled on this novel. I think I was in the bookstore and I just happened past it. I actually picked it up, I started to buy it, but I talked myself out of it (as I have forced myself to do many times since getting Kindell, the Kindle and his brother, Irving, the Kindle Fire). I put it down, walked away, returned, pondered it again, dismissed the idea, left.
Promptly went home and pulled it up on Irving.
Pondered, again. It wasn't free. It wasn't discounted (much). I could wait, right? Besides, I'm already reading something. It's not as if I needed anything else on my to-do-list. Besides, don't I have enough to read already (when I have time to read, that is)? I mean, seriously.
But I succumbed to the allure and seduction of the title and the promising story within the pages of a long lost love affair rekindled...
Such a sucker, am I not?
So, I bought it via Irving, thank you Amazon.com, my favorite website ever since discovering you years & years ago. Move over, Disney - Amazon.com is my happiest place on earth.
Ah, but I digress. We're here to talk about "The Rest of Us" by Jessica Lott.
This is one of those intellectual reads, where the characters are far too refined for me to relate to - altho, at first I felt I was relating quite well to Terry, aka Tatie, as her beloved Rhinehart calls her, with her unexceptional existence, an empty life of unlived dreams, wheels spinning in place on an endless NY street...
She is very static. She's existing, not living. She moves slowly through her days, maybe pushes, although without vigor, through her days is a better description, thru a suffocating force that seems to be holding her, stifling her, in place. Her life languishes, as if she's waiting for something to happen to her instead of her stepping up, or would that be stepping out?, to make it happen for herself.
And so we enter into this thick fog of a story meeting the aimless Terry, just as she's read the shock of Rhinehart's untimely death. Just a quickly, she runs into him, Christmas shopping, and learns it was a terrible, terrible mistake. Did she miss the retraction? Apparently, so... What comes next is a story of second chances - Rhinehart's second chance at life (even though he was never at risk of losing it to begin with) and Terry's second chance at having a relationship with him - this time, platonic, because, her Rhinehart has married.
We learn Rhinehart is a bit aimless, as well, having once been a keen and celebrated poet, he has fallen into the ordinary life of aging scholar and henpecked husband. They are each holding on to their past - Terry by staying in place, as if changing anything might mean Rhinehart couldn't find her should he seek her out, and Rhinehart by keeping a photograph Terry took in his study where he can see it daily, altho it seems to have stifled his words instead of inspiring them to come forth. And so, the reunion rebirths them both - Rhinehart from the dead and Terry through a renewed interest in her art.
Their relationship begins slowly - oh, so slowly - through a carefully stepped friendship after Rhinehart and his wife separate. I find Terry quite frustrating, and boring - so brooding and such a pushover to both Rhinehart and her best friend, Hallie, that my eyes would have glossed over had I not been rolling them every few sentences into the back of my head! What is the point of this story, I wondered? Where is the promise of romance, when will I be captivated by the forbidden affair (after all, he is now separated from his wife, so there is no rush of excitement, no thrill of secrecy to keep me at bated breath!), what did I spend my money on, after all???
But then, out of nowhere (according to dear Irving, 40% into the book), the ordinary Terry blossoms into the tantilizing Tatie, and suddenly I am transfixed by the promise of her replenished creativity, her renewed interest in her chosen career, the allure of New York's art world, her interesting and engaging banter with Rhinehart, and now I am swept away into their life, their struggles to reconnect and rekindle their relationship. Their need to not repeat the same mistakes they made before... As Tatie's confidence grows, her opportunities flourish! She plays a dangerous game of friendship with Rhinehart's soon-to-be ex-wife. Rhinehart, an immigrant from the Ukraine who came to America with his mother as a very young child, begins an emotional affair with his Ukrainian family history, a pursuit that takes him out of the country indefinitely, leaving Tatie behind to try to piece the puzzle of their relationship into a picture she can see, hold, understand and hang on the wall.
Over the course of many months, but less than a year, Tatie & Rhinehart come together, drift apart, pick one another up and fall together again. Tatie, the weak & stale Terry I first met - the girl who couldn't say no and was bullied and prodded into doing as others wanted instead of what she wanted - turns out to be one of the strongest and most amazing of characters I think I've ever read. I think she will stay with me for a very long time, which is why I felt so compelled to write about this story as soon as I read the last line. I don't want to forget her - I want to know her, I want to hug her, I want to tell her she's going to be just fine.
But, you know, I'm not worried about Tatie. I know she's strong, she's stable, she's in New York, and she's living her dreams.