***This review contains spoilers.***
I’m not a huge fan of sappy romance novels or even chick lit, but something about Jill Santopolo’s “The Light We Lost” grabbed my interest. I wish it hadn’t. The novel about the romance between Columbia seniors Gabe and Lucy begins on 9/11/2001 and stretches on for the next thirteen years, after their careers and priorities landed them in separate parts of the world. Lucy becomes a children’s television producer, while Gabe is a photojournalist covering conflicts in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Syria and beyond.
One of the most aggravating parts of the book (and there were many) is how our narrator, Lucy, is telling the story TO Gabe. Therefore each short little chapter (which is identified by lower-case Roman numerals because it’s so fancy) begins with some sort of insight into life such as, “There are certain events in a person’s life that feel like turning points, even when they’re happening” and then ends with a question to Gabe such as, “But would you let me photograph you, now, if you had the chance?” Vomit. There are so many fake apologies: “I’m sorry if you don’t want to hear about me falling in love with another man, Gabe, but you left me to go chase your dreams.” There are so many asinine little asides: “Did you ever meet so-and-so’s sister, Felicia? She has corkscrew curls and the brightest smile and a keen sense of fashion.” There are just so many words that do NOTHING to bolster the narrator’s personality, character, or presence.
Here’s what really gets me about “The Light We Lost.” It’s all so promising. The fourteen month romance at the center of the story doesn’t take place right away, and it happens all while the other shoe is about to drop, because Gabe has told our narrator that he will be leaving NYC to pursue photography. They move in together anyway, vowing that they won’t ever minimize the other person’s career goals. Then Gabe becomes an experienced photographer, and leaves Lucy alone in New York. He stops responding to her e-mails. She finds solace in her gal pals, seeks advice from her science-y older brother who makes a bunch of references to chemistry, then meets another man and falls in love with him.
All the while, she is becoming established in her TV career. She works on a children’s show called “It Takes a Galaxy,” which features cartoon aliens. Lucy slowly begins contributing more to the plot points of the show, breaking gender stereotypes and helping teach kids to believe in the power of their dreams. She ends up dating this guy Darren, who she meets at a beach house, and he is a stable, polite, 9 to 5’er who seems like a safe choice after the dashing and unpredictable Gabe.
Every so often she is jarred by a reminder of Gabe–a photo of his appears in the New York Times, or she sees something on Facebook that reminds her that their lives have drifted apart. But Darren is helping her cross things off her bucket list. He buys her a puppy, which will be kept at HIS apartment. Lucy doesn’t like that–she wanted a say in the dog selection process. He whisks her away to France because she wanted to spend a weekend in Paris. That’s where he proposes.
So of course she marries this nice stable guy, even though he tells her that her children’s television job is “cute” and she thinks that’s offensive. He minimizes her aspirations, which is exactly what she and Gabe promised they would never do to each other. Gabe calls her, of course, on the morning of the wedding. He wanted to hear her voice, and she theorizes that he doesn’t have enough deep connections with other people to keep him grounded even though he has this exciting and kind of dangerous career.
He gets engaged to someone else, then they break up. Lucy and her husband have two kids and start to drift apart. Darren wants her to quit her job because, well, the guy is sort of a chauvinist and she never had a serious conversation to curb that opinion. Lucy thinks he is cheating, so eventually when Gabe is back in town, they have a one-afternoon affair and SURPRISE! She gets knocked up. Then he calls her, desperate to recapture the normalcy they could never have, and tells her he is quitting and moving back to the States to be with her. Then he gets horrifically injured in an explosion and SURPRISE! Lucy is his medical proxy so her pregnant self has to get on a plane to Israel to decide whether to pull the plug.
Ugh ugh ugh. It is all so yuck. The premise was interesting, and I admire the star-crossed lovers that want to make a difference in the world. But really, even the ENDING lacked satisfaction, because I wanted to know whether she was going to stay with the husband and didn’t even find out.
Next time that I’m tempted to pick up a chick lit book, I’ll think twice. At least this was a quick read so not too much time was lost.