Thea is a passionate writer who covers a wide array of topics, including film/tv reviews, opinion-based pieces, and relationship advice.
About the Book
This past weekend, I popped into my local library with the intention of letting my soon-to-be kindergartner pick out some books about pirates. I noticed their new release section had moved, and I skimmed over some of the book jackets. Quick to catch my attention was In Five Years by Rebecca Serle.
I had read Serle before, she’s a Kirkus award winner and TV writer who splits her time between NY and L.A. I checked the book out despite a general lack of personal time and my own writing projects begging to be finished, and thought I’d breeze through it quickly and unemotionally, as it appeared to be a typical romcom. I was surprised to find as I read that looks can be deceiving, as can dreams, but more on that later. If you’ve read it, you know what I mean.
What follows is my personal opinion on this book, and I’d love you to chime in in the comments. There are many spoilers below, so you should bookmark this page, read the book, and then come back after that to read my take.
Synopsis (Major Spoilers!)
Dannie Kohan is a relatable thirty-something lawyer living in New York city who has her life planned out to the smallest detail, with a strict timeline to boot. But the night she gets engaged, she lays down for a quick nap and wakes up five years in the future with a super sexy man who is not her fiance. After this experience is over, she wakes up again after her engagement night nap. It shook her so bad that she sought out a therapist, thinking it was just a bad dream messing with her head. The experience/dream starts affecting her life in the sense that she just cannot marry David, her fiance, and starts putting off those plans and focusing on her career. Almost five years go by and the dream/experience becomes an afterthought as she achieves everything she ever planned during that timespan, except getting married to David.
In Summer of 2025, Dannie’s best friend Bella introduces her to her new fiance, a man named Greg. Dannie instantly recognizes him as the man from her intimate dream. They all vacation together, and Bella becomes pregnant, only to realize later that it is a rare form of ovarian cancer. The whole time the story is unfolding, the reader is imagining that Bella’s potential death and Dannie’s probable breaking up with David is leading she and Greg on a trajectory to being together, to finding their happily ever after. This tension and hope is always present during the story.
The reader is drug along through heart-wrenching scenes of Bella’s demise with pops of hope from Greg, who is also called Aaron. In the end, Bella passes away and David leaves Dannie, calling off the wedding. Dannie and Greg do share the passionate experience that she dreamed about, but context matters. When the scene is removed from its context at the beginning of the novel, it seems like it is a true love experience, something people should aspire to; that Greg is Dannie’s soul mate and they just have to find each other. But in the context of Bella’s death, the sexual experience is nothing more than a one-night-stand to escape the grief both Greg and Dannie had endured after losing Bella. In fact, Greg leaves and they don’t see each other again. Dannie goes to a deli to grab a salad or a sandwich, and runs into Bella’s oncologist, and Serle seems to suggest that they begin to casually date, but it is not presented in a happily-ever-after tone. In fact, it is written in a purposefully underwhelming way, to eliminate any chance at a fairy-tale perspective. At this point the reader realizes this was not a love story at all, but an homage to Dannie and Bella’s heartwarming friendship, as well as being a lesson in grief.
What I Loved
I genuinely had no idea where Serle was going with this piece, which I loved. I am really good at predicting plot lines and tropes, but this one really threw me for a loop. There were so many twists along the way which intrigued me to keep reading.
I also adored the gastronomic descriptions in this book. In only a few words Rebecca Serle repeatedly painted a picture of New York food culture by splashing out ingredients and nationalities. Food was also such a big part of the relationships in the book. Characters often talked over food, made decisions over food, and comforted themselves with food. I felt like I was with the young, pretty, successful women eating at a trendy cafe or having a takeout salad in the park. This element of food united the story line throughout.
I love books that don’t have wholly evil villains or perfectly righteous main characters, and this was one of them. The closest we came to an evil villain was Jill, Bella’s absent mother with selfish tendencies. Still, we learn in the end that she was the reason Bella and Dannie were able to go to school together and be friends. Even Dannie had some major hangups of her own (she was over-controlling, playing games with David, keeping secrets from him).
Dannie describes herself as not a big drinker, and maybe that’s different in the North when compared to the rural South where I live, but I’m just saying there sure were a ton of references to alcohol if they were supposedly not big drinkers. It seems that every other page is talking about a glass of red, or a bottle of white, or shots, or hangovers, or martinis. That is definitely not my idea of light drinking.
On another note, Serle’s references to talcum powder are problematic and a bit outdated, seeing as it is actually linked to ovarian cancer. Again, this might be a cultural/regional thing in the North. I personally am thirty-two and I don’t know even one woman my age who uses baby powder on her shoes or sore feet. Talc powder is definitely dangerous.
The twist ending was somewhat of a letdown in my personal opinion. Call me a softie but I like a good happy ending, fairy tale, fate-driven plot. Instead, Serle’s book leaves us feeling empty and blah, like maybe love doesn’t really exist for some of us. Or maybe all dating scenarios will always be mediocre. Like maybe love is a letdown in and of itself. I felt a similar feeling at the end of Where the Crawdads Sing, when there was no romantic culmination of their love (wedding, engagement, or passionate love scene). I still think many women love a good happy ending and Dannie ended up alone and sad, which left me feeling contemplative and a bit empty.
Finally, and the main reason I critique this novel, is that I cannot picture the main character in my head, and the descriptions given of her seem unattractive. Perhaps I was meant to put myself in the main character’s position and imagine the story from my point of view. I liked Dannie’s relatability, don’t get me wrong, but I just couldn’t imagine her other than wearing blazers and other lawyer attire. I like to feel like female protagonists are attractive in a romcom, and I just didn’t get that vibe from Dannie. I have mental images of all of the other characters, except her.
Don’t take my critiques to mean I didn’t like the book, because I truly did. It gave me chills at times, made me cry at others, and made me bust out laughing ten times or more. The best part of course is that I could not put it down. I read it in three days. It was very relatable and felt real. My critiques above are part of the overall feeling that the book left me with, and sometimes reading takes us to different emotional places. Not all books are meant to make you feel warm and fuzzy. This romcom turned out to be an expose on grief and loneliness and failing at a planned life timeline. That results in emptiness and placid acceptance, not frilly satisfaction. Sometimes feeling those things, and thinking about those things, is necessary and not altogether bad.
All in all I enjoyed this book very much and would read Serle again, and I encourage all readers to pick up this book for an easy weekend read and a good, long cry, keeping in mind it is not a happy-ending romance, and will leave you with many questions and a mixture of emotions.
Don't agree? Let me know below in a respectful way. Part of the wonder of being in a pluralistic society, is we can all have opinions, even if they are different. All of them are valid.
© 2021 Thea Tsayt