Tuesday, August 3, 2010

#31: One Day

Serves me right for taking the existence of a New York Times book review as an affirmation of the author's grasp on plot. Or, for that matter, the English language. David Nicholls' One Day was so clearly written with the inevitable feature-film in mind that I'm genuinely perplexed as to why he didn't save himself some time and pen it in screenplay format from the start.

Never mind. He already did. It hits theaters next year, with Anne Hathaway starring. But back to the Times review. Liesl Schillinger wrote, "You may want to take care where you lay this book down," ostensibly to avoid being burglarized, although I can hardly imagine why anyone would risk incarceration for such a microscopic reward.

Nicholls' style of choice is italics, as in, "...and a silence followed while both of them thought oh God, oh God, oh God, oh God." In this case the exaggerated emotions were owed to the tingling sensation reverberating down Emma Morley's spine as Dexter Mayhew rubbed suntan lotion onto her back. Fittingly enough, I was spouting similar mental interjections by the time I reached chapter three of One Day -- only in agony, not ecstasy. This overt sexual tension, by the way, is a prominent motif in Nicholls' novel, which is always a bad sign, as are the expository thought-bubbles muddying the action everywhere. It's as if the author couldn't formulate a vehicle for conveying his creations' intentions without spelling them out in their entirety.

Unfortunately for his readers, Nicholls' characters do quite a lot of thinking -- 435 pages of it, in fact, interspersed with the requisite bursts of campy dialogue. Come to think of it, One Day could spawn some terrific drinking games. For example, take a shot every time you read "Dex and Em, Em and Dex" -- a tired literary trope that, according to Google Books, David Nicholls trotted out five times. It's almost as if he is trying to tell us something, that fox.

On the bright side, one need never fear having neglected to catch some symbolism here or conceit there: One Day hardly traffics in ambiguity. It goes without saying -- perhaps the only case in which Nicholls recognizes the value of omission -- that Dexter and Emma are meant to be together. Consequently, there is a definite sense that their eventual conjoining is a matter of "when," and not "if." Subtlety, in One Day, entails merely implying, instead of actually describing, what takes place once two lovers remove some clothing and climb into bed together. Actually -- "his hand was on the base of her spine, his leg slipping between hers," I read on page 7 -- even this is a bit generous.

But first, the requisite false hopes, punctured dreams, and the like. As this is a romantic comedy in book form, both Dexter and Emma must date their fair share of red herrings. And thus Chapter Twelve opens: "Then, without quite knowing how it happened, Dexter finds that he has fallen in love, and suddenly life is one long mini-break." Her name is Sylvie and, in Dexter's smitten vocabulary, "she is great, just great, just...amazing! She is beautiful of course, but in a different way from the others..." And here I will spare you the rest, for the sake of brevity and the prevention of mental decay.

Of course, Emma needs a worthwhile distraction to pass the time while Dexter dates his procession of disreputable women. To this end, she meets Ian at the restaurant where she works, Loco Caliente, and is beset with the vague notion that his is "a face that made her think of tractors." No explanation is supplied or, frankly, possible. Nicholls alternates buoyantly between bountiful exclamations on one page and perplexing similes on another; gradually, all words lose their meaning, buried under a cascade of childlike emotion punctuated by frequent bouts of excessive capitalization.

It is said that movies are almost universally poor representations of the books from which they were adapted. For the sake of future moviegoers everywhere, I sincerely hope David Nicholls is a better screenwriter than novelist.

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