Douglas , who in their right mind would look forward to that ?”
In Us, David Nicholls, once again cleverly tells a contemporary love story about two protagonists that has lasted more than two decades, how they got together and the dynamics between them. Just like the couple in One Day, the much acclaimed novel by Nicholls, the couple in Us is put to the test. In One Day the mismatch was between Emma, a serious minded woman and Dexter, a self-indulgent man. Their friendship spanned over twenty years as they kept in touch with one another by meeting up once a year. In Us, Douglas Timothy Petersen, a 54-year-old industrial biochemist, a disciplined man is married to 52-year-old Connie whom Douglas loves very much. Connie and Douglas is another unlikely match. While it appears unlikely that she who loves art and culture and has done a lot of sex and drugs would have been attracted to Douglas who knows nothing about art and a scientist who is consumed by his work.The story is told from the perspectives of Douglas who is very much troubled when Connie tells him that she thinks their marriage has run its course and she thinks she wants to leave him.
Us is a story about the relationships between a man and his wife and also between a man and his eighteen year old son, Albie. Before their son goes to college, Connie suggests a grand tour of Europe to prepare their son for the adult world and he hopes that the family trip will bring them closer. In his desperate attempts to get close to his son and make Connie fall in love with him all over again, things keep going wrong and he ends himself in odd and embarrassing situations which are hilarious and incredibly silly .
Like many of us , Douglas thinks he is doing things differently from his parents and he wants to be a better parent than his father.
‘Because throughout my childhood and teenage years I had been compiling a list of banal and irritating remarks that I swore I would never, ever make when I was a parent. All children make this list, and all lists are unique, though no doubt there is considerable overlap. Don’t touch that , it’s dirty! Write your thank-you letters, or no more presents! How can you waste food when people are starving? All through Albie’s childhood, out they rumbled. No more biscuits, you’ll spoil your appetite ! Tidy your room ! It is WAY past your bedtime? Do NOT come downstairs again! Yes, you do have to have the lights off ! What on earth are you afraid of ? Don’t cry ! You’re acting like a baby. I told you, stop crying. Do. Not. Cry !'
Connie does not share the same parenting style as Douglas and she voices her concern.
" So can we just assume that Albie will learn these things and that the time you spend constantly getting at him, which is all the time, is not well spent?”
“ The point you’re making doesn’t stand.”
“Because it’s not about teaching him how to tie his laces or to eat broccoli or talk sensibly. It’s about doing things properly; teaching him application , perseverance and discipline.”
“I’m teaching him that not everything in this life is easy or fun.”
“Yes ,” Connie sighed and shook her head. “You certainly are.”
In Us, Nicholls writes in the voice of Douglas.
‘ Was I an authoritarian? Certainly less so than my own father, and never unreasonably so. Connie was of the school that thought a certain degree of cheekiness, irreverence, rebellion – the crayon on the wall, the unwanted cauliflower hidden in the shoe –should be treated with an indulgent nod, a wink, a ruffling of the hair. I wasn’t like that, it was not in my nature or upbringing, and neither was I of the school that thought praise should be unearnt, or that ‘I love you’ should be tossed around with wild abandon, just another way of saying ‘goodnight’ or ‘well done’ or ‘see you later’, a clearing of the throat. I did love my son, of course I did, but not when he tried to set fire to things, not when he refused to do his maths homework, not when he spilt apple juice into my laptop, not when he whined because I’d turned off the TV. He would thank me in the long run, and if I did overstep the mark sometimes, if I did lose my temper, snarl when I should have forced a smile then, I was very, very tired.'
Raising children becomes a project for many couples with children and when their children are all grown up, they suddenly find themselves having only each other thus the term empty nest syndrome has been coined. Over the years when their common goal is to make sure that their children make it to colleges and universities, they overlook the quality of their relationships between one another. It is a perfectly ordinary chapter of many marriages. What now ? Change is an inevitable part of life.
David Nicholls is an acute observer of contemporary way of life and Us details the mores for many modern days middle class families. It is a good read indeed.