Who knows you better than your best friend? Who knows your secrets, your fears, your desires, your strange imperfect self? Edi and Ash have been best friends for over forty years. Since childhood they have seen each other through life’s milestones: stealing vodka from their parents, the Madonna phase, REM concerts, unexpected wakes, marriages, infertility, children. As Ash notes, ‘Edi’s memory is like the back-up hard drive for mine.’
So when Edi is diagnosed with terminal cancer, Ash’s world reshapes around the rhythms of Edi’s care, from chipped ice and watermelon cubes to music therapy; from snack smuggling to impromptu excursions into the frozen winter night. Because life is about squeezing the joy out of every moment, about building a powerhouse of memories, about learning when to hold on, and when to let go.
Catherine Newman’s We All Want Impossible Things is a poignant tale of friendship and family, and following two women as one nears the end of her life from terminal cancer. Feeling more like a novella than a novel, the story wraps in just over 200 pages.
Admittedly, I DNFed this book the first time I started it but then forced myself to give it a second chance. I can see just how many readers love this one, and whilst there were definitely some positives, there were also a lot of elements to the story that I really struggled to enjoy. And so I feel like this book is a bit middle-of-the-road for me.
“Sicilian lemon polenta pound cake is Edi’s holy grail. She bought a piece at Dean & DeLuca in the mid-1990s, claimed it was the best cake she’d ever eaten, and then could nevr find it again. Even the very next week, when she returned to the store, they didn’t know what she was talking about and had no record of such a cake in their inventory.”
I like that Edi’s terminal cancer forms a framework for the novel – we know how their story will end, and so we are anchored by the rather rapid decline in her health. It helps to maintain the pacing of the story and keeps the story on track.
However, I felt like the structure of the book wasn’t quite what I was expecting from the blurb. We were thrown into this rather chaotic story with more chapters dedicated to Ash and her family than her friendship with Edi. I thought there’d be more to establish Ash and Edi’s lives and history together but there wasn’t. As a result, I didn’t really care too much for either character. I felt like Edi seemed very small in the story and didn’t hold much presence because Ash was such a dominant – perhaps too dominant – character. Ash was also such a grating character who made rather implausible decisions that I found her rather unlikeable.
“You know when you put on a sweater in the car, and then when you get to where you’re going you can’t figure out how to get out of your seat belt? That’s what it felt like trying to peel Edi out of her clothes.”
The chaotic nature in the book was rather noticeable in the dialogue – over-the-top, somewhat contrived writing that perhaps would work on screen but not on the page (for me). I didn’t warm to Ash in the book and so her endeavours with her family and her partners fell flat for me. Whilst I can appreciate what the writer is working to establish with the trajectory of Ash and her husband’s marriage, a lot of the scenes and conversations just seemed to be there for the sake of it – lots of rambled dialogue that didn’t seem to really say anything at all.
I don’t feel there was any growth for Ash, she only cared for herself, made everything about her, and I couldn’t understand why her estranged husband would want to get back together with her at the end of the book. And her relationship with her teenage daughter felt caricature and not at all realistic.
“I’ve been friends with Jonah as long as I’ve been friends with Edi, since Edi and I were assigned, in nursery school, to take care of Vinnie, the classroom Venus flytrap. We fed Vinnie bites of bologna from our sandwiches and sang him the Jewish folk song ‘Dona, Dona’ with so much tremulous vibrato that we actually made ourselves cry.”
Whilst this book didn’t sit well with me, I am conscious how popular it is with readers and so there is definitely an established audience. Readership skewing 30+
Thank you to the publishing company for mailing me a review copy in exchange for an honest review.
We All Want Impossible Things
Penguin Random House Publishers