Douglas Petersen is a fairly happy man, or at least content – with a decent living as a scientist, an artist wife to whom he has been married for more than 20 years, and a son who is just about to start college – until she (the wife) wakes him up in the middle of one night to tell him she thinks she wants to leave him. Douglas is surprised to say the least, but he is determined to win his wife back. He has planned a summer tour of Europe for his little family, booked hotels, printed an itinerary. The only things he is unprepared for are all the hundreds of things that could possibly go wrong and the millions of ways in which they could.
Reading this, I laughed out loud at some of Douglas’ jokes and sometimes at his expense. Douglas Petersen, the man in whose words this story unfolds, is a forthright man, perhaps because he knows no other way to be. He is smart, witty, self-deprecating, and ever ready to declare his own faults and shortcomings. He is an analytical man, almost clinically so. And perhaps this is what enables him to interpret and articulate definitely some of life’s murky emotions and happenings.
Some instances are the way he talks about grief, “Grief is as much about regret for what you’ve never had as sadness for what you’ve lost;” living in the moment, “The trouble with living in the moment is that the moment passes. Impulse and spontaneity take no account of the longer term, of responsibilities and obligations, debts to be paid, promises to fulfill;” and the effect of distance on arguments, “Alternative points of view are more easily appreciated from a distance. Time allows us to zoom out and see things more objectively, less emotionally…”
Connie, his wife, is a head-in-the-clouds woman and indulgent mother. Their son, Albie “Egg” Petersen, is a bit of a brat and does not get along with his father; this is aided in no small measure by his mother’s coddling. And this is another thing Douglas sets out to fix with their grand tour of Europe’s finest landscapes and museums, but things sometimes don’t go as one imagines.
The book explores science, art, grief, love, parenting, and marriage, amongst other themes, and the end is left open, literally. It shakes all up the conventional ideas we have come to learn about love, second chances, and happy endings.
I didn’t love any of the characters, and I thought the plot flowed like Douglas’s personality – a bit too tame and even-tempered, but in all, an enjoyable read.
Rating: 3.8 stars