Wednesday

Book review: "I Regret Everything." Mental illness, societal disapproval, iambic pentameter? My kind of love story.

"Regret expands. It matures. It accrues strength and mass. It is a living organism."

"Our lives are lived with the illusion of control and then there are moments rare as wisdom when we abandon the pretense that we are masters of our fate."

"One of the advantages of being considered mental is loved ones aren't so quick to scream at you."

With I Regret Everything, Seth Greenland has written the type of book that makes you think all other writers should just give up. Then, if you are in fact a writer, you try to eat the story's heart, wash the blood from clawing into it out from under your fingernails, and vow you will one day write something so stirring. Except you think the only thing anyone could write that's so stirring is the film adaptation. Which needs to happen. Now.


I Regret Everything is replete with pathos elegantly balanced with humor. But initially, this is not the type of book that I thought I'd be up until 6 a.m. reading.

The first few chapters of the alternating narration — a trend used like a skillful choreographed dance here — are engaging, but dense. Jeremy, a trust and estates lawyer with a pseudonymous poetry career, felt like a pretentious bore, navel-gazing with a thesaurus in hand, the kind of yuppie tool you know can tell you exactly where the wood in his coffee table came from and could discuss the merits of various tie knots. Even his penchant for dropping fifties in street performers' upturned hats reads a bit douchey. Spaulding, a 19-year-old wannabe poet fresh off a stay in a mental hospital who is borderline stalking Jeremy, is immediately charming yet appears customized from the Manic Pixie Dream Girl template.

But then you notice the chemistry that brings these caricatures into 3-D. You read in one chapter how endearing Jeremy perceives Spaulding in a specific interaction, and in the next, Spaulding's totally fretting over the same event, and vice versa ("What one person considers adorable another might see as bipolar," she thinks). There's witty banter, spontaneous ballet, a shared ride in the backseat of a car when Jeremy rescues Spaulding from the rain and she makes a leap in intimacy by asking him to untuck his shirttail so she can dry off her glasses. It's all very rom-com. Did I mention she's 19, and he's 33? And oh yeah, she's the boss's daughter. He tries to resist, but does he try hard enough? This can't, won't end well, you think.

Then Jeremy, a non-smoker, is diagnosed with stage four lung cancer ("Is there a stage five?"), and you think, this really won't end well.

Everything that happens next is a miracle. Yes, no spoiler alert, they fall in love. Ride-or-die, if-you're-a-bird-I'm-a-bird, yes-I'll-help-you-hide-the-body kinda love. But ignore my The Notebook reference if it ails ya, because trite Nick Sparks fare this ain't.

Spaulding and Jeremy couldn't be more different even with their shared passions and agile, compatible brains. They misunderstand each other a lot. When he opens up and tells her something about his family history to push her away, she arrives on his doorstep with a pie she baked, telling him how close she feels to him. When he thinks she's going to be awed by something, it enrages her. When she makes a joke at his expense, it doesn't land.

But along with their fervent love of language, they share a desire for unabashed, all-caps LIVING — Spaulding because her life is really just getting started, Jeremy because his life might be ending. Jeremy already had one disastrous romance, and when he could have run off with the girl, he chickened out. Will he make the same mistake twice, when he might be running out of time to amass regrets? "She had the courage to pitch herself into the heart of a roiling mob yet I was paralyzed," he thinks. "More than that, she had the courage to reach across the chasm of age and propriety that separated us to try to forge a connection. It was inspiring. It was unmooring."

Aside from the beautiful language and the passionate love story, two things stand out for me. One, Spaulding. Spaulding is my everything. I may one day name my child Spaulding. She's this avalanche of awesome — anyone would fall in love with her vulnerability and spirit. Two, how utterly freaking cruel fate is. In one of the most intense scenes in the novel, Jeremy thinks, "How much was I supposed to tolerate before being reduced to a gibbering jumble? How much could anyone withstand before he looked to the uncaring heavens and cried uncle?" I about yelled at the author: "Yeah! What the eff, guy?!"

There's plenty of plot twists and compelling supporting characters amid all the introspection, so if you're the type of person who, say, likes running-and-shouting movies more than sitting-and-talking ones, there's something here for you.

I Regret Everything is about bravery just as much as it's a love story. It's about the blurred line between what's regrettable and imprudent, and what is vital and soul-affirming. These two utterly damaged people find this superhuman strength in each other — but it was really there all along, needing to be coaxed out.

I want to put this book in mailboxes. I want to unleash parachutes and litter lawns with copies. I want to chase people with drones until they succumb. Have I said enough about this book? I can't possibly have said enough about this book but I know society will only allow so much praise.

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