Fiction – hardcover; Scribner Book Company; 240 pages; 2017.
I neglected to mention that I am participating in the Shadow Giller Prize once again, which means reading all the shortlisted titles and then choosing a winner before the real one is named on November 20.
When the longlist was announced a few weeks ago I went on a hunt to see what books were available in the UK that I might be able to get a head start on. Admittedly Zoey Leigh Peterson’s Next Year, For Sure wouldn’t have been my first choice of Giller Prize book to read, but the hardcover was just £3.89 on Amazon so it seemed churlish not to buy it.
The book tells the story of a young couple who pursue the idea of having an open relationship — with unforetold consequences.
Kathryn and Chris have been together nine years. They’re in love and do everything together. Sometimes it’s hard to know where one person begins and the other ends, their lives, their interests, their personalities are so intertwined.
But then Chris confesses he’s been thinking a lot about Emily, a woman he sees at the laundromat.
I think I have a crush on Emily, he tells Kathryn in the shower. This is where they confide crushes.
A heart crush or a boner crush? Kathryn says.
He doesn’t know how to choose. It’s not particularly sexual, his crush. He hasn’t thought about Emily that way. And Chris would never say boner. But it’s not just his heart, either. It’s his molecules.
So he tells Kathryn about his molecules. How the first time he met Emily, it felt like his DNA had been resequenced. How he felt an instant kinship and a tenderness that was somehow painful. How, whenever he talks to her, he comes away feeling hollowed out and nauseous like after swimming too long in a chlorinated pool.
Kathryn’s reaction isn’t what you might expect: she suggests that Chris should pursue his interest in this woman and ask her out on a date. Suddenly there’s a third person in the marriage and it causes the inevitable tensions and strains one might expect — and quite a few that you might not.
Entertaining and effortless
From the start I thought the premise of Next Year, For Sure sounded dubious, the sort of book I wouldn’t like, but I was pleasantly surprised by how entertaining and enjoyable it turned out to be. I ate it up in just a handful of sittings and even though I didn’t much like the characters — too needy, too self-centred, too feckless — Peterson does such a brilliant job of putting us in their heads, explaining their motivations, their concerns, their fears, that it was hard not to become totally immersed in their story.
She doesn’t tell us everything about Kathryn and Chris straightaway, but over the course of the novel we begin to find out things about them that challenge our preconceptions. Both characters need lots of love (and attention) but their motivations are different: Kathryn has been in an abusive relationship and her passivity is, at times, crippling; Chris simply has a roving eye and finds it difficult to settle down.
Needless to say the characterisation is superb: Peterson show us Kathryn and Chris’ flaws but refrains from casting judgement on them. They are messy, vulnerable people caught up in the ebb and flow of an intimate relationship, struggling to come to terms with the stability (and monotony) of a long-term partnership.
My only quibble — and it’s a minor one — is that perhaps Emily could have been fleshed out a bit more. She’s almost ephemeral in this story, so much so it’s hard to tell what Chris finds so appealing about her, but perhaps that was the author’s intention.
And while not a great deal happens in the story, which is set over the space of a year, from September to September, there’s enough little dramas in it to maintain interest. And to be honest, what reader couldn’t help but be intrigued by a couple breaking all the social and moral codes so ingrained in our way of life?
Next Year, For Sure is a rather charming tale about taking risks and chasing dreams, but it’s also a warning about wanting things we cannot have and of not appreciating what’s right in front of us.
I read this book as part of the 2017 Shadow Giller Prize. It is currently only available in hardcover.