I love the dust jacket for The Year That Follows (Knopf). Look at it, right over there. A beauty, isn’t it? Really made me want to read the book.
And, oh, how I loved the first chapter. Kyle, a young New York City professional, is late for a morning meeting. At the World Trade Center. On September 11. He’s in the elevator when the plane hits. And the moment it happens is one of the most thrilling pieces of fiction I’ve read in a long time. It’s just a few lines, but when I’d read them I actually thought: “Holy crap.” Scott Lasser has a terrific writing style: crisp, knowing, even cunning. He knows how to set up a scene, what to reveal, and what not to. Love that.
After Kyle’s death, his sister, Cat, who lives in Detroit with a son of her own, decides she needs to find Kyle’s son. Though Kyle and the child’s mother weren’t together when he died, Cat feels the need to fashion a connection with his flesh and blood. At the same time, she also wants to reconnect with her father, who lives in California. And she longs to connect with someone in a romantic way.
The book, as you’ve probably surmised, is all about connections. The ones based on blood. The ones forged by law. The ones bound by love. It really is a beautiful little book. And when I finished it, I should have been satisfied, swooning. Instead I was angry. I was at my neighborhood pool when I finished the book, and I almost threw it in.
I was on the ride for all of it. I went with the various connections. I went with Cat to California to see her dad. I went with Cat when she rekindled a relationship with her only serious flame, a high school boyfriend who became a doctor. I went with Cat when she finally found Kyle’s son. I even went with her when she convinced the child’s grandparents to let her have him, raise him, far away from them.
And then Lasser ruined it. Killed the whole thing. I won’t do that for you now, but I will say that there are several ways to end a book. Usually, the best way is to say as little as possible, avoid the nice neat package tied up with string. Better to leave the reader some room to imagine. But Lasser really blows it here. Not only does he give us too much ending, he gives us the worst possible ending. I keep trying to figure out why in the world he would have torpedoed his own book. I keep wondering if I’m missing the point. But I’m sure I’m not. Actually, what I think is that Lasser missed it.
There are books I don’t like, and that’s fine. I don’t expect to like everything. But this book I really loved. I admired it, and I admired Scott Lasser. Until the moment he betrayed me — and worse, until the moment he betrayed the characters he’d so lovingly created. The Year that Follows could have been a sweet book, almost a fairy tale. Damn him.