Rebecca Serle Tests the Bonds of Friendship in ‘In Five Years’

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In Five Years Book Cover In Five Years
Rebecca Serle
Romance
Atria Books
March 10, 2020
Audio Book
272 pages/6 hours

Where do you see yourself in five years?

Dannie Kohan lives her life by the numbers.

She is nothing like her lifelong best friend—the wild, whimsical, believes-in-fate Bella. Her meticulous planning seems to have paid off after she nails the most important job interview of her career and accepts her boyfriend’s marriage proposal in one fell swoop, falling asleep completely content.

But when she awakens, she’s suddenly in a different apartment, with a different ring on her finger, and beside a very different man. Dannie spends one hour exactly five years in the future before she wakes again in her own home on the brink of midnight—but it is one hour she cannot shake. In Five Years is an unforgettable love story, but it is not the one you’re expecting.

Right off the bat, I’m going to go ahead and say that Rebecca Serle’s In Five Years is written with a very particular type of reader in mind. That reader, unfortunately, is not me. Victim of my own circumstance for thinking any book with the New York skyline on its cover is bound to be interesting, I spent six hours of my life waiting for this story to end.

Dannie WhateverHerLastNameIs TheyOnlyMentionedItLikeOnce, is a Type A, overachieving 28-year-old woman living in New York in the year 2020. She’s got her life planned out down to the millisecond. She knows exactly what she wants, when she wants it, and how she wants it and will accept nothing less. On the day our story begins, Dannie is going for an interview at her dream law firm where she’s wanted to work since she was a child, which, of course, she nails. She’s currently living with her boyfriend David, who serves mostly as a talking head now and again, and who’s personality is mostly described in terms of how he fits into Dannie’s life.

She’s got her life planned out in such a way that she knows exactly when David is going to propose to her, which happens to be that same night. However, after the proposal, Dannie falls asleep and she has a dream so vivid that she swears it actually happened. In this dream, she wakes up in 2025, in an apartment in Brooklyn, accompanied by a man who seems to know her, though she only comes to know him as Aaron from a stolen glance at his driver’s license. Though she doesn’t know who he is, or where he came from, even though she’s lost, confused and terrified, she proceeds to have sex with him in less than an hour of knowing him.

When Dannie awakes again, she’s back in her Manhattan apartment with David in 2020. Only about an hour has passed and her life is exactly as she left it, except that the dream – or whatever it was – left her shaken. Dannie doesn’t know what to make of it, but for the most part, she lets it go and moves on with her life. That is until four and a half years later when Dannie’s set to meet Bella’s, her best friend, new boyfriend (Dannie and David remain unmarried, btw, in spite of her 100-year plan) and OH MY GOD! You will NEVER guess who it is!

No, yeah, you guessed it. It’s Aaron. *Pause for gasps, but only one cricket stridulates and he, too, stops, unamused.*

The cricket, probably.

(I looked up that word: stridulates. For you guys. I didn’t have to go that hard, but I did.)

So the reader thinks they’ve got it all figured out: It seems there’s some kind of future in which Dannie ends up with Bella’s boyfriend, but as we all know, from watching Mean Girls, that’s “against the rules of feminism.” So Dannie decides to put her own wedding on the fast track to avoid sleeping with her best friend’s boyfriend at all costs. Because we all know, marriage has stopped so many people from having affairs.

Life goes on for Dannie. She’s trying to arrange a whole ass wedding in the space of five months, while at the same time trying to acclimate to Aaron. Bella seems really in love, and Dannie attempts being friendly while putting up walls so as to always maintain her distance from him. This goes on for a long time until the day when Bella is diagnosed with cancer and then again, the reader presumes they know what’s going to happen. Bella will die AND THEN Dannie and Aaron will get together. Right?

Wrong.

Some of the marketing for this book mentions that this is not the love story you expect. They’re not wrong. For the majority of the story, the author is trying to sell us this unwavering, “bond of the millennium” friendship between Dannie and Bella. But from beginning to end, Bella never feels like much of a main character. Not until she’s diagnosed with cancer, and even then, the story revolves around Dannie’s own turmoil about one of the following things:

  1. Will she/should she still bother getting married to David.
  2. How to avoid fucking Aaron.
  3. Bella is dying and it is getting in the way of all her plans.
Dannie, probably.

All the characters surrounding Dannie are cardboard cut-outs of people. David is the patient, organized boyfriend, who’s willing to wait for her forever — until he doesn’t. Aaron is the hot guy who’s dating her best friend, who’s really good for her, who deserves a chance to prove himself. Even Bella, who is supposed to be more of a “supporting” role, is always just the carefree, spirited, manic pixie girl who brings color into Dannie’s life. These characters have no purpose of their own; they’re only here to affect Dannie’s narrative.

That’s another thing: For as much drama as this story presents, I wasn’t moved. The story gets slightly more interesting when Bella was diagnosed with cancer (which feels like a terrible thing to say), but it was still the superficial pain of someone we don’t really know and can’t relate to. Listening to this on the audio book made me think that the voice actor had way more emotion in her voice than the story actually deserved.

There were too many passages where the narrator is focusing on what brand of clothing the characters were wearing (no one shops at Target, let me tell you). One particular scene goes on for almost a whole minute naming the different types of fruit and cheeses Aaron was able to acquire at the store. Unless this is a COVID-19 story, or there happens to be a severed body part among the groceries, please don’t fill up space and waste my time with grocery lists. There are also far too many mentions of the weather and allusions that leave me with a furrowed brow not really understanding the connection.

I look out on that view. The water, the bridge, the lights. Manhattan on the water, shimmering like a promise. I think about how much life the city holds, how much heartbreak, how much love. I think about everything I have lost there, this fading island before me.

— excerpt from Rebecca Serle’s ‘In Five Years’
Me while reading ‘In Five Years.

Overall, this book seemed gimmicky. It seemed like Serle hoped to keep throwing the reader off, like constantly screaming “GOTCHA!”

But these twists only left the narrative feeling like it lacked cohesion. First, the story seems to be about a woman who’s going to learn how to relinquish control and learn to live in the moment. Then, it tries desperately to push this idea that it’s about friend love, not romantic love. On that point, Dannie doesn’t do much to prove her devotion to Bella, other than try to avoid sleeping with her boyfriend. Bella, on the other hand, gifts her a whole apartment, and even speaks plainly to her about her false pretenses in marrying David. She’s the first person to confront her and tell her she’s not in love. Even as she’s dying, she’s looking out for Dannie, while Dannie runs amuck, screaming “woe is me.”

In the end, it’s hard to put your finger on what the story was really about because looking back it feels all over the place. What was it all for? There’s no satisfying feeling of resolution, of the points adding up. I’m not even sure why Bella had to have cancer. Seems like Dannie could’ve learned the meaning of friendship AND learned to be freer without her best friend having to die.

But for all my annoyance with it, it has really good ratings, and it’s very popular. So take this all with a grain of salt, and go ahead and check it out for yourself.

Maria

A self-proclaimed hermit and potential cat hoarder, Maria lives in Virginia where she writes, proofreads and copy edits as a freelancer. Her longstanding love affair with books began when her mother would fall asleep reading bedtime stories to her. (Don't worry; she was sure to wake her up so she could finish.) Now, as an adult, Maria struggles with a reading vice that has often threatened the hygiene of her home. On the few occasions that her nose isn't buried in a book, she enjoys exploring new cities, having margaritas with her sister, and curling up with a book--wait, what?

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