Have you ever wondered what would have happened if? For harried working mother Abbey Lahey, a tumble down a Nordstrom escalator lands her in an alternate reality, where she is the pampered wife of Alex van Holt, a handsome blue blood running for Congress. At first, she is dazzled by the closet full of designer bags, the team of stylists who keep her beautiful and well coiffed, the gold credit card and husband with washboard abs. Rather than struggling at a dead end job to make ends meet and arguing with her out-of-work landscaper husband Jimmy about whose turn it is to pick up the kids from school, she has a nanny to care for the kids, a calendar booked solid with teas and parties, and a husband who could go all the way to the White House. As she admits on a TV interview in her new life, she is living a fairy tale.
The idea of alternate realities, and the dream of getting to live out one of your own, has been explored in various modes of fiction over the years — Lionel Shriver’s The Post-Birthday World, Gwyneth Paltrow’s Sliding Doors, the Broadway musical If/Then, to name a few — and it’s easy to see why. The fantasy of having a better life is tempting, and the idea that you could fix one minor mistake in your past to get this better life is compelling. The One that Got Away is such a fantastic read, and I highly recommend it for anyone looking for a fun weekend escape. I devoured it in a couple of sittings; I couldn’t put it down and I definitely enjoyed imagining my own potential alternate realities as I read.
I love how there were good and bad points in both potential lives. It’s sometimes tempting to imagine that our alternate futures are so horrible (the man who got way turns out to be a loser or utterly cruel) that we are 100% grateful for the lives we do have, but Himes doesn’t take that easy way out. Abbey’s life with Alex isn’t perfect, but in many ways, it’s a wonderful one. In many ways, Alex is indeed a Prince Charming, and Abbey’s “fairy tale” comment does ring true. Even the dragon lady mother-in-law shows some vulnerability near the end, keeping her from being a total caricature. I love how the snags in Abbey’s life with Alex aren’t all about the world around her, but about her herself, and how she fits into this world. Alternate Abbey speaks fluent French and watches opera rather than sports, and there’s nothing wrong with either thing, but real Abbey is a fish out of water, pulling a blank at a charity luncheon where she has to give a speech in French.
I also love how Abbey doesn’t suddenly realize that her “real” life with Jimmy was perfect after all. Rather, her life in the alternate reality helps her realize how the relationship became strained in the first place. Much like going on a retreat helps you understand your life better, living in an alternate life gives Abbey the distance needed to better understand what happened in her “real” life.
I loved so much about this novel, and will be keeping it on my shelves as a fun means of escape every now and then. It’s just plain fun and perfect summer reading. I highly recommend it for anyone looking for a light-hearted, breezy read, and for anyone who’s ever pulled at their hair after a long day and wondered, “what if?”
Thank you to Hachette Book Group Canada for an Advanced Reading Copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.