In Five Years has been hyped by multiple on-line sites and news outlets as one of the buzzy books of Spring, 2020. I ordered a copy frombookshop.org (which delivers books AND supports local bookstores at the same time) with a couple of other buzzy books. In Five Years is short, only 251 pages, and breezes right along so I read it first.
Danger: SNARK ahead. This is probably the snarkiest review I’ve ever posted. Generally I don’t post about books I don’t like. But this one is getting so much positive buzz, I can’t in good conscience let another person (of my sensibilities) spend their money on it. It may very well suit you.
I do however recommend you order any number of other delightful books from bookshop.org or your local book dealer who, like Joseph-Beth Lexington https://www.josephbeth.com and MacIntosh Books and Paper Sanibel Island http://www.macintoshbooks.com, is probably shipping or delivering books curb-side. I’ll highlight some favorites at the end of this review.
It’s 2020 and Dannie Kohan is living large as a Manhattan (naturally) lawyer engaged to a great guy . (Of course) Maybe my aggravation is that they are millennials? And eat avocado toast? (Just wondering if life ever happens anywhere else in the world? Only Manhattan and London? Is that just me?)
Anyway, Serle’s novel begins with Dannie’s recitation of numbers.
Twenty-five. That’s the number I count to every morning before I even open my eyes. . . .
Thirty-six. That’s how many minutes it takes me to brush my teeth, shower, and put on face toner, serum, cream, makeup, and a suit for work. If I wash my hair, it’s forty-three.
Eighteen. That’s the walk to work in minutes from our Murray Hill apartment to East Forty-Seventh Street, where the law offices of Sutter, Boys and Barn are located.
Twenty-four. That’s how many months I believe you should be dating someone before you move in with them.
Twenty-eight. The right age to get engaged.
Thirty. The right age to get married.
With all these numbers and the interior book copy proclaiming that Dannie “lives her life by the numbers,” you’d expect Dannie to be a bit more OCD about numbers throughout the rest of the book, wouldn’t you? You would be mistaken. That’s it folks for the numerology. Which is fine — I just don’t understand why the focus on it on the first page when you aren’t going to carry that trait through the novel.
So . . . in Chapter 2, it is 2020. Dannie is twenty-eight. She gets engaged to David, her nice financial planning boyfriend, who chooses the perfect cushion-cut diamond “flanked by two triangular stones in a simple platinum band” (naturally) and presents it to her after a stunningly elaborate and expensive meal at the Rainbow Room, now closed to the
public. But David’s firm has access to reservations (naturally) which the rest of the world can’t get. Bella, Dannie’s beautiful, bounteous, blonde, rich, “zaftig,” Skiksa best friend, (are all gorgeous, blonde, best friends named Bella? Is that just me again?) helped to choose the ring. Dannie says yes.
Two hours after dinner, Dannie falls asleep on her sofa back at home with David. But when she wakes …
I am in Dumbo; I must be. Did David take me to a hotel? . . .
The apartment isn’t giant, but it gives the illusion of space. Two blue velvet chairs sit necking in front of a glass-and-steel coffee table. An orange dresser perches at the foot of the bed, and colorful Persian rugs make the open space feel cozy, if not a little cluttered. . . .
Where the hell am I?
I hear him before I see him. He calls: “Are you awake?” . . .
The well-dressed stranger comes over to me, and I leap onto the other side of the bed, by the windows.
“Hey,” he says, “are you okay?”
“No!” I say. “No, I’m not.” . . .
And that’s when I catch the TV. It has been on this whole time, the volume low. It’s hanging on the wall opposite the bed and it’s playing the news. On the screen is a small graphic with the date and time: December 15, 2025.
And there you have it. The big hook of the novel. Well, shortly followed by this:
His face hovers close. Here we go, he’s going to kiss me. Am I going to let him? I think about it, about David, and about this Aaron’s muscled arms. But before I can weigh the pros and cons and come to a solid conclusion, his lips are on mine.
. . . Slowly, and then all at once, I forget where I am. All I’m aware of are Aaron’s arms wrapped tightly around me.
The novel progresses (naturally) over the next five years as Dannie gets the job of her childhood dreams at
a THE Mergers & Acquisitions LAWFIRM in MANHATTAN, doing deals 80 hours a week for VERY IMPORTANT CLIENTS while having quaint weekend dinners in Greenwich Village bistros with her fiancee and splendiferous weekend brunches with her best friend Bella and late night dinners brought home by her dedicated fiancee. (while wearing great designer clothes.) (and not ever gaining weight.) (due to all that NYC walking, I suppose.)
Here’s my big problem with the novel told in the best way I can figure to spell it out without giving away the entire plot: the promise the author made in the beginning of the novel was not kept. Whatever expectation you may have about how this romantic comedy-in-waiting will resolve is not what happens. Not only that — but the ending explanation of the flash-forward completely subverts the written intention of the initial scene. Frankly, dear reader, it irritated me.
If you’d like some other recommendations for good reads, take a look at the chronicles of email@example.com. Some that I haven’t yet reviewed include: Exposure by Helen Dunmore, Writers & Lovers by Lily King, Meet Me at the Museum by Anne Youngson, The Island of Sea Women by Lisa See. And my debut novel, After the Race, is available at all the outlets listed above as well as rabbithousepress.com,
If your book club does choose In Five Years, there is a veritable feast of meals from which to choose, including:
Pasta with pesto made by Aaron on the night of December 15, 2025
Bagels with whitefish (PLEASE KEEP THIS AWAY FROM ME), Dannie’s choice of victory breakfast
The engagement meal from the Rainbow Room: a simple salad, lobster, champagne, chocolate soufflé.
Brunch with Bella at “Buvette, a tiny French cafe in the West Village we’ve been going to for years” (naturally): eggs and caviar on crispy French bread, avocado toast, a plate of delicate crepes dusted with powdered sugar.https://ilovebuvette.com/#global
If I were planning this book club, I’d serve champagne, scrambled eggs and caviar on toast points, avocado toast, and I’d attempt a chocolate soufflé’.
For such a New York-y book, Sinatra seems a natural. Or Billy Joel. Of course, when David and Dannie dance at the Rainbow Room right before they are engaged, the band is playing “It Had to be You.” (NATURALLY) My favorite version of this song is by Southerner Harry Connick, Jr.
Inevitably, this will be made into a movie.
Dannie Daisy Ridley
Bella Dakota Fanning
David Adam Driver
Aaron Alex Pettyfer
Happy Reading! Stay safe and distant but social.
P.S. Are you having virtual book clubs? What are you doing? I’d love to hear about it. Drop me a line and let me know.