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Laura Dave’s The First Husband:
Sometimes Love Gets Messy

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Annie Adams loves the film Roman Holiday. “It was my comfort movie,” she says. “It was, quite simply, my comfort.”

Unfortunately for Annie, every viewing of Roman Holliday somehow precedes disaster. The first time she watched Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck zip around Rome on a scooter, she was seven years-old. The following day, her parents announced they were getting a divorce. The second time, she was 16, and the credits had barely finished rolling when her mother said they were moving from San Francisco to a remote corner of North Dakota. After college graduation, Annie nabbed a job as a reporter for the New York Sun. To celebrate, she watched you-know-what and promptly learned that because of a hiring freeze she was out before she was in. When she was 27, she and Nick were celebrating their first anniversary of being together and planned to move from New York to Los Angeles where Nick was hoping to break into movies. Things seemed good—she was writing a regular travel column—so she decided, why not? Halfway through the film, the phone rang. The house they had planned to move into in Venice had burned down.

So why, you ask, would she watch the film on the eve of celebrating her fourth year of dating Nick? Quite simply, she loved the movie, the charming romance between a princess and a reporter. “It led me to convince myself, as a logical person, that my tragedies couldn’t possibly have anything to do with a movie that was so romantic, so full of hope.”

Annie had a few minutes to exhale after “The End” flashed across the screen. Maybe this time it would be okay. Her relief was short lived. Nick arrives home from work and tells her, “My therapist says we may need a break,” a euphemism for “There’s someone else.” After four years, Annie finds herself upended, her only steady gig her travel column called, fittingly enough, “Checking Out.”

Annie’s best friend, Jordan, soon turns up, suggesting that Annie join her and her family for an Italian vacation. Annie’s relationship with Jordan is complicated by the fact that Jordan is Nick’s sister. Jordan urges Annie to be patient, that Nick’s fling with Pearl (yes, that’s her name) won’t last and he’ll come back.

Fate, however, has other plans for Annie. Deciding to rejoin the living, she puts on her “magic dress” and heads out to a beachside restaurant. Even though it’s after midnight, the bartender makes her a drink—a bourbon with a pinch of salt. She finds out that the bartender is actually the chef and he makes heavenly scrambled eggs. Soon, she and Griffin are an item and after only three months, Annie finds herself standing in a Las Vegas wedding chapel saying, “I do.”

She moves with Griffin back to his hometown, Williamsburg, Massachusetts, where he plans to open a restaurant. As a travel writer, Annie has been around the world, one reason, perhaps for her restlessness, yet she is charmed by Williamsburg. Settling into small town life, however, proves difficult. Griffin’s ex-girlfriend, Gia, is still reeling from their breakup and having a hard time understanding how, after 13 years together, Griffin married someone he knew for only three months. And Griffin’s mother, Emily, fond of GIa, doesn’t try to hide her disdain for Annie.

Jordan’s prediction finally comes true: Nick regrets his breakup with Annie and wants her back, even though she is now married to Griffin. To top it all off, Annie receives the kind of job offer a writer can only dream of, but one that requires a move to London. So what will Annie decide? To stay with Griffin, the first man she married, or go back to Nick, the man she thought she would marry?

There are no easy answers where love is concerned. Annie must choose, not just between two men, but between two lives. Is she ready to settle down with Griffin in a small town, or continue to travel with Nick, writing her column as he makes films? Laura Dave’s characters feel real, never cardboard. We like Annie, want her to make the right choice. We have a visceral reaction to Griffin’s mother, becoming fearful that Annie could never be happy in a small town bumping into Emily and Gia again and again. The only character we never get to know is Nick, yet we’re willing to give him a break because his sister, Jordan, loves him.

Dave also is great at creating atmosphere. We can picture a snowy Williamsburg decked out for the holidays. We see the chaos in Griffin’s house when his brother, Jesse, comes to stay with his twin sons.

In the end, Annie makes her decision. Yet she can’t bring herself to watch Roman Holiday, running from the room when the man she has chosen pops in the DVD. “And I’ll be here for you,” he says. “If and when the bad does come. For whatever it’s worth.”

The First Husband
Laura Dave

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