Elsie and Ben have been married nine days when he heads out on his bike to pick up some cereal for Elsie. When he doesn't come home and she hears ambulance sirens, Elsie runs outside to discover that her new husband and soul mate has been hit by a truck and died instantly. At the hospital, as she starts to navigate the surreal situation, she discovers that Ben's mother Susan is still listed as his next of kin and she will have all the say in what happens with Ben's body and the funeral. As if this wasn't enough, Ben never told his mother about Elsie and Susan doesn't believe that they were married. And Elsie can't prove it because their marriage license hasn't even arrived in the mail yet. So instead of the two people who most loved Ben being able to come together and comfort each other in their grief, they are rivals at odds over what Ben wanted.
The novel follows two plot lines alternating evenly between the two of them, one moving forward from Ben's death and one telling the story of Elsie and Ben's whirlwind romance. In the present, Elsie and Susan butt heads and have difficulty accepting each other or acknowledging the love that Ben had for each of them. Part of the trouble on Susan's part is not only that she is skeptical about the importance of Elsie in Ben's life but also the fact that she, like so many people in Elsie's life, minimizes Elsie's grief because she and Ben had only been married for such a brief time. In fact, they had only known each other for a handful of months before they got married. But what others don't appreciate is that Elsie and Ben's relationship and love affair was a completely real one, not just a fairy tale created after the fact. Ben was a sweet, romantic, thoughtful man and Elsie was totally head over heels, madly in love with him. The duration of their knowing each other had no bearing on the amount of pain Elsie feels at his loss. And after all, who can really quantify love on a timeline?
This is a novel about learning to live again and to trust and appreciate those around you who also loved your love. It is a realistic, emotional, heart-wrenching read but has a surprisingly poignant amount of levity to keep it from overwhelming the reader with only intense sadness. The double stranded timeline works well here as a way to make Ben a fully rounded character and to explain why he never shared the fact of his intense and wonderful love for Elsie with his mother. Both Elsie and Susan handle their grief honestly even if very differently. And each must come to find a way to move forward and go on in the present even though they are shattered. Their gradual understanding of the depth of the other's love for Ben helps each of them grow and change. Reid has captured beautifully the range of emotions, the anger, the fear, and the wracking grief that often come in the wake of an early and unexpected death. The reader sympathizes with Elsie and comes to respect Susan's fortitude as she piles the loss of her only son on top of the loss of her husband only a couple of years prior. It is hard to keep dry-eyed when reading this but in the end it is true and hopeful and healing, if not more than a little bittersweet.
Thanks to the publisher for sending me a copy of this book to review.