So I will preface my thoughts about Taylor Jenkins Reid’s 2016 novel One True Loves by saying that Daisy Jones & the Six was one of my favourite reads last year. It had all the things: humour, nostalgia, angst. It was my first book by Jenkins Reid and so I knew I would be dipping into her back list and that is how I ended up with a copy of One True Loves.
One True Loves sounded totally like my jam because there is nothing I like more than people who love each other but can’t be together (Buffy/Angel, Sid/Vaughn after Vaughn thinks Sid is dead and marries she who will not be named). In this story, Emma Blair lives with her older sister, Marie, and their parents in Acton, Massachusetts where they own a bookstore called Blair Books.
One day at a swim meet, Emma sees Jesse Lerner, high school swimming star and the boy Emma develops a crush on that lasts until the night at a senior year party where they finally speak to each other. The connection is instant and before you can say “I love you”, they are actually saying “I love you.” And that’s pretty much my problem with the entire book.
Fast forward several years and Jesse and Emma have settled – after years of traveling the world – in Los Angeles. Emma is a travel writer; Jesse works as a production assistant on wildlife documentaries. Then, just before their one year anniversary, Jesse takes a job in Alaska and the helicopter he is on crashes.
Emma’s grief is all consuming. She demonstrates this by climbing up onto her roof with a pair of binoculars to watch the sliver of ocean she can see, sure that she will see Jesse trying to make it home to her. Eventually, though, she decides to return to Acton and takes a job at Blair Books, something she swore she would never do. Then, she runs into Sam Kemper, the other boy from high school whom she’d friend-zoned. Suddenly she has feelings for Sam. I say suddenly because all the relationships in this novel are sudden and soul-mate deep. The pronouncements would be so much more effective if I actually felt as though I got to know any of these characters on anything more than a superficial level.
We don’t see Jesse and Emma struggle. We don’t see any of their travels or any of their growing up. They come face to face at a party in their senior year, then they hide in the bushes when the cops come to bust it up and then they are revealing their innermost selves to each other – and I get it, sometimes chemistry just knocks the wind out of you. Emma explains her feelings like this:
I was madly in love with him and had been for as long as I could remember. We had a deep meaningful history together. It was Jesse who had held my hand when my parents were furious to find out I’d never sent my application to the University of Massachusetts, and in doing so, had forced their hand to send me to California. It was Jesse who supported me when they asked me to move home after we graduated, Jesse who dried my tears when my father was heartbroken that I would not come home to help run the store. And it was also Jesse who helped me remain confident that, eventually, my parents and I would see eye-to-eye again one day.
The boy that I first saw that day at the swimming pool had turned into an honorable and kind man. He opened doors for me. He bought me a Diet Coke and Ben & Jerry’s Chunky Monkey when I had a bad day. He took photos of all the places he’d been, all the places he and I had been together, and decorated our home with them.
And this is the problem with One True Loves: it’s all tell. I never felt invested in these characters and their story because I never really spent any time with them. They are all nice people, but the tension which should develop when Jesse is returned from the dead (not a spoiler, the book blurb tells you) never actually materializes. By this time, Emma and Sam have met, fallen in love and are engaged. What’s a girl to do?
Nice guy Sam is teary-eyed, but stoic about this situation, but he loves Emma and her happiness is all that matters to him. There’s no real angst here because Emma’s feelings for both of these handsome, kind, lovely men (c’mon, really?!) are kinda equal. Like, toss a coin equal. There’s no downside to ending up with either of them.
One True Loves is easy to read, but utterly forgettable. It does not, however put me off Jenkins Reid. I have Malibu Rising on my bedside table and I am very much looking forward to it.