“We knew each other so well by this point – knew each other in that honest, unmitigated way that people get to know you who meet you when you’re still young. Before all the rest of it. Before it becomes both easier and harder to know yourself.”
~Annie Adams, via Laura Dave in The First Husband
How do we best define ourselves – by the freedom to go or the courage to stay? That’s the question at the heart of Laura Dave’s fantastic new novel, The First Husband, which invites readers along on several journeys with main character Annie Adams. Some are literal. Some are figurative. Some are physical. Some are emotional. All are compelling, relatable, and inspiring.
Annie is living the life she thought she always wanted – her job as a travel writer gives her endless opportunities to see the world and all its hidden treasures, her boyfriend Nick is on the verge of being a breakout in the film industry, and the future seems bright with possibility. Until Nick drops a curtain of darkness over that sunny outlook by announcing he’s moving out. That leaves Annie with more questions than answers, and when fate (or maybe just perfect timing) leads her to cross paths with chef extraordinaire Griffin, well … the questions multiply, but so does the happiness. So does the comfort. So does the feeling of belonging. The story that follows spans two countries, two different-as-can-be cities, and two lifestyles that seem inherently at odds with each other. Is Annie really the globe-trotter whose spirit and soul thrive on the bountiful escape that travel provides? Or has she been searching for something else, for a place to call home, all this time, without even realizing it? As she explores these questions – and takes readers along for the ride – we’re treated not only to a glimpse of her life, but also her heart. We see what makes her tick, what makes her feel safe, what makes her truly come to understand what – and who – home is.
Laura’s writing is wise, witty, graceful, and genuine. So are her characters. From Annie and Griffin, to his brother Jesse and his twin boys, to Annie’s boss Melinda and her best friend Jordan, they come alive with a vibrancy that makes you feel as though you’ve known them forever. They feel like friends, which makes readers invest in them. And, in a cleverly compelling move, Laura often begins chapters by paying homage to Annie’s travel column, “Checking Out.” We’re treated to a lesson she learned – such as why it’s important to travel with someone you love or why people crave the escapism of a vacation – and then we see, through the pictures Laura paints, just how strongly that applies to real life, too. Not just Annie’s, but ours. And isn’t that the sign of a great story? It’s not only words on a page, but words we can take to heart long after the last page has been turned.
As eager as I was to find out what happened (I am 100% in love with the ending), I was sad to see this book end and am hoping Laura might decide to revisit the characters sometime down the line. There’s so much more I want to know about them. For now, though, I’m grateful to have followed along on their journeys. Much like travel once was for Annie, reading is an escape for me. With how difficult this year has been, I’ve needed that more than ever. Getting lost in this book was a joy. And, much in the way Annie describes her friendship with Jordan in the quote above, I feel like it’s reminded me of so many important things. In some ways, maybe we’re our truest selves when we’re young. In others, it’s the people we meet, the places we go, and the lessons we learn that help shape who we become. They help us understand who we are and where we belong. This story is a fabulous example of that. It reminds us that we make our own luck. It reminds us that sometimes an escape isn’t necessary. It reminds us to follow our own dreams and passions. And, perhaps above all else, it reminds us that home is where the heart is.