G. Bianco, 2019
Described as “unapologetically honest and intimately written”, With or Without You by Caroline Leavitt is a new contemporary novel that showcases relationships and examines how one moment can change three people’s lives. This new release from Algonquin Books is thought-provoking and makes you wonder “what if?”
After almost twenty years together, Stella and Simon are starting to run into problems. An up-and-coming rock musician when they first met, Simon has been clinging to dreams of fame even as the possibility of it has grown dimmer, and now that his band might finally be on the brink again, he wants to go on the road, leaving Stella behind. But when she falls into a coma on the eve of his departure, he has to make a choice between stardom and his wife—and when she wakes a different person, with an incredible artistic talent of her own, the two of them must examine what it is that they really want.
Despite being catalyzed by a specific event, this book is very character-driven and I really loved the shifting viewpoints between Stella, Simon, and Libby. The alternating POVs gives the novel an immersive feel and showcases just how each of their lives shifted before and after Stella’s coma. The way some of these characters change their ways and others fall back into bad habits is so strikingly human that readers will be sucked into the mindsets of these characters. You simultaneously want to hate them and pity them, which seems to be a sign of a well-developed character.
Some of the characters actions and motives are questionable, but it speaks to the human condition and how we as individuals cope and try to achieve our dreams. However, Leavitt also shows how sometimes dreams and aspirations can change, especially when looking back on the events in our lives that we can’t go back and change. All of the characters are flawed and affected by their pasts, yet that’s what makes them so interesting to read about.
While I wish the ending would’ve been a bit different, I understand why the author chose to conclude the novel the way she did. The ending leaves something to be desired and might seem inconclusive, but all of the characters eventually find some sense of closure in their lives and resolve to live their lives differently.
Leavitt crafts a distinct and thought-provoking book that any literary fiction lover will enjoy. If you’re looking for developed and flawed characters as they navigate the mundanity of life, then this is the novel for you.
*I received an ARC from Algonquin Books in exchange for my honest opinion.
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