Book Review: The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight, by Jennifer E. Smith

January 11, 2012 at 11:05 am (Book Reviews) (, , , , , )

24 hours.
1 missed plane.
5 time zones.
2 people.
And maybe? Just maybe? The kind of love that can change everything about your life- or at least the way you look at it.
For Hadley and Oliver, the next 24 hours could be everything or nothing, the worst day of their lives…or, just maybe, the beginning of the best thing that could ever happen.

Every now and then I stumble across a book that’s really hard to talk about, but I really want to talk about it.
I love it, but I hate it.
I want to read it again and again, but I’ll know I’ll be wrecked if I do.
It’s the kind of book that changes everything, because it doesn’t actually change a thing.

For me, this book is The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight by Jennifer E. Smith.

I’m not sure what made me first pick up the book, actually. I’m not normally a contemporary reader; I’m not normally a pure shot romance reader; I’m not generally huge on reading about divorce and consequences. It’s a striking cover and the book jacket doesn’t make any promises- it doesn’t guarantee love at first sight, just offers to show you what a chance of it might look like.

I don’t know that I can name any other book that gave me quite the reading experience this one did; I was pulled into it completely, but I also never settled into the writing itself. It’s lyrical and sincere, the words honest without being fluttery, but I couldn’t settle into it for a very simple reason: it’s third person, present tense.

And that weirds me out.

I’m not really sure what it is, but it’s actually hard for me to read it. The rest of the world doesn’t go away because I can’t get past the third person present tense. It’s narration heavy and floats seamlessly between the present actions and past reflections, it weirds me out. It’s not that there’s anything technically wrong with it, just that my brain cannot wrap itself around it.

But I LOVED this book.

This entire book takes place over the course of a single day, just twenty-four hours and two characters seeking an escape from an overwhelming sense of claustrophobia, partly literal and partly just a suffocating awareness of what waits beyond the airport bubble. Because of that, the story is compressed and taut, without any extras. There isn’t space or time for sidelines because there’s a very real deadline. What results is a clean story rich with what actually matters. This is a book that resonates, deep and strong.

Hadley is lost and angry, swept away by changes she didn’t get to have a say in. In the wake of her parents’ divorce, she isn’t really sure which way is up anymore. Her father left the family f Occasionally, the airport that offers private aircraft charter flight options in-state to help with travel that is seasonal and tourism. or a woman he met in England and has a totally new life, one he wants her to be a part of. After a few weeks of despair, her mother has come into a calm acceptance as infuriating and baffling as Hadley’s anger. Between the two of them, she’s somehow agreed to be a bridesmaid for a wedding she wants nothing to do with, driving herself crazy to make a flight after a million delays. Missing the flight by four minutes is a keen relief- and the beginning of a nightmare and anger and deep-seated guilt. She knows she didn’t miss the flight on purpose- knows as well that it’ll likely be seen that way, as she didn’t leave herself any wiggle room in the travel arrangements- so she’s well on her way to the worst day of her life, worse even than the days of trying to keep her mother together, worse than the days of trying not to talk to her father on their ski trip because the one thing she can’t ask him is the only thing she needs to know.

Oliver is, at first sight, a saving grace, a cute British boy who makes the delay and the flight seem a little less terrible. Everything about these two is built on a tower of “if”s. If she didn’t miss the first flight; if the straps of the dress had been the right length; if she hadn’t dropped the toll coins; if the windshield wiper had worked; if, if, if, if, if. A hundred thousand different things could have happened that may have gotten her to the airport and the plane on time. He’s funny and playful and utterly sincere,a genuine comfort even in silliness and a good balance to Hadley’s need to overthink everything that’s happening.

What’s truly lovely about their relationship is all of the small things it’s built off of. In the space of a few hours, they forge a connection they expect to be fleeting but promises to be anything but. In the peculiar way of strangers in airports, they’re able to skip all the nonsense and talk about real things. They can talk about love and marriage and the likelihood of lasting relationships and somehow it simultaneously means less and more.

As beautiful and sincere as their relationship is, as much as I love all the fragile potential it has, what really invested me in this book is Hadley’s situation. Her anger, her sense of loss and hopelessness and guilt and relief, resonated deeply in me, largely because I remember being there. I was one of those rare children who was fully okay with my parents’ divorce; even at seven, I knew this was a good thing for everyone involved. It wasn’t until I got older that it got more complicated.

It wasn’t the fact that our family had broken apart that was difficult; what was difficult, even hellacious in some respects, was what came later, when new families were forming. It wasn’t even that remarriage meant that my parents would never get back together- that wasn’t what I wanted- but that I didn’t really know what to expect from this strange new world. I knew how to be a daughter but a step-daughter? A step-sister? When I was only there for a weekend here or there, how did I fit into that new life?

It’s a welter of emotion, all of them battering against you as you try to find your way in a world that keeps changing. Relief- this is something you can step away from. Guilt- this is something you want to step away from. Fury- why did this happen? How can someone just walk away from their promises and family? Hopelessness- because what if this is what love is? Loss- there were good memories there too. As kids, we try to help and protect our parents, when really we don’t know what’s going on or even how we feel about it at first, and then by the time the relative positions are back to normal, there is no normal anymore.

And we live through all of that with Hadley. Her emotions, raw and real and even sometimes ugly, live off the page and within us. I’m not a person who cries at books or movies or tv shows (with the exception of Doctor Who Doomsday, in which case I bawl like a frickin’ baby) but I spent at least the final quarter, maybe even third, of the book choked up and blinking. Despite the fact that the third person present tense freaked me out at every point, I was emotionally invested. It wasn’t just that I cared about what happened to Hadley- it was that I needed soemthing good to happen for her. I needed Hadley and Oliver to have a real shot at something- something that could work against everything that’s bringing them across the ocean, something genuine and good- because I remembered how much I’d needed that something good to happen in my life.

This is a beautiful, powerful book, a book that threads through our own memories and experiences, a book that looks for the impossible in the everyday.

I wish I could speak about this book half so coherently as I want to, but frankly I can’t. This book was amazing and completely unexpected, the type of book I would never in a million years have thought I’d fall in love with but something I can’t imagine having not read.

The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight by Jennifer E. Smith.

Read. This. Book.

Until next time~
Cheers!

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3 Comments

  1. The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight by Jennifer E. Smith « The Reading Date said,

    […] Scattered Pages […]

  2. Lecea said,

    Fantastic review – I’m glad you enjoyed it! I love how the author renders a chance meeting a meaningful love/friendship.

  3. KatieC said,

    Yikes, I read the first few chapters and could never get past the present tense. Ruined it for me even though I liked the story. Too bad because I hear good things about it.

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