Forgive me. This will probably be one of my reviews where I get a little snarky. I hate that I do that, but at least I’m self aware. First of all, I love the title. That’s actually why I picked this book up on a whim. The cover is very simple but intriguing. Disappointingly so, I found out the title was later changed to the much more Hallmark-esque title of Life and Other Happy Endings. (WHYYYYYY????) Switching Death to Life takes out all the intrigue.
The synopsis is one that’s been told before, but there are some twists on the cliche. Jennifer Cole is told that she’s dying of a blood disorder and only has three months to live. As she begins to re-evaluate her life, she decides to write letters to the people with whom she has unfinished business. These people consist of her spoiled, narcissistic sister, her jerk-wad narcissist of an ex-husband, and an ex-boyfriend. You guessed it: also a narcissist. I’ll give Cantor some extra credit for a realistic portrayal of humanity.
I didn’t dislike the character of Jennifer, but I find myself feeling very tepid toward her. Yes, she has some good moments, but overall she just frustrated me with her nonsensical decisions. And yes, I realize that anyone who has been told they have three months to live is bound to make some nonsensical decisions, but I got the impression that Jennifer has a lifetime achievement award in poor decision making. We do get to see her growth in this arena, so that’s to the book’s credit. Add to that the fact that the book takes some pretty predictable turns, there wasn’t much to keep my interest. On the whole, however, I do appreciate that the book is well-written and does well with the introspective nature of the character. I thought the range of her emotions through her ordeal was quite authentic which did help me empathize with her to a greater degree.
Now, on to the strangest decision in the whole book. Let’s talk about THAT sex scene, shall we?? WARNING: MAJOR SPOILER COMING, SO SKIP THE NEXT PARAGRAPH IF YOU MUST!
Even if I’m dying, I don’t see myself having sex with a stranger under a tree at 6 am in a public park. Then again, maybe it’s all prude central up in here, so who am I to judge? I think I would have been more ok with this knowing it was JUST a spur of the moment decision by a dying desperate woman. After all, when faced with imminent mortality, all we truly want to do is feel something deeply, be spontaneous, be wild for the first time perhaps. Ok, I can roll with this. But in an odd but saccharine turn, she winds up WITH the guy she met in the park. I had to ask myself, would I want to spend forever with a man who would ALSO spontaneously have sex with strangers in public parks at 6 am???? He was not dying. He was just willing to screw anything and everything without questioning who/what/when/where/why. That’s a pretty big red flag, right?? Maybe he felt sorry for her and wanted to show this dying woman a good time, but that might even be worse. Pity sex? Ugh!! Using her because she’s vulnerable and willing and, hey, a man has needs, right? Ick. Were this an episode of “How I Met Your Mother,” it could only air on Cinemax after 11. Due to the way his character is introduced and then dropped for the whole rest of the book, he has almost zero character development. We aren’t able to develop any attachment to him. He’s purely inconsequential until we are later told he’s not. It’s been a while since I’ve read this, and I can’t even remember HIS NAME!! I feel like it’s not ok that the dude who winds up being the leading man is someone I can’t remember beyond my fleeting curiosity regarding the unpleasantness of dewy morning grass on his bare buttcheeks. We don’t even have time to figure out if he’s a narcissist or not, and Jennifer has a type so I’m betting he is.*
In summary, I found this one a little disappointing. It’s an interesting idea that opens up some amazing possibilities for character development. The execution was just a little lacking for me.
*I’m so sorry this paragraph wound up being so long.
Published June 6, 2019 by Pamela Dorman Books. ISBN 9780525562115. Hardcover. 352 pages.