'Just One Year' Author Gayle Forman Rewrites Great Literary Love Stories
In my novel "Just One Day," Willem introduces the ideas of accidents: "The little things that happen. Sometimes they're insignificant; other times, they change everything," he explains to Allyson. In the sequel, "Just One Year," the accidents work against Willem and Allyson for much of the book, twisting fate to keep them apart in a series of close calls.
The idea of accidents or fate or serendipity fascinates me--not because it's unrealistic and fantastical, but because it's not. Think of how often something like this happens: You're about to leave the house, but the phone rings. You grab it, talk for five minutes and then leave. Then, on the subway, you bump into an important old friend you haven't seen in a decade, and an important relationship is rekindled. And it might not have happened were it not for that five-minute lag because of that phone call.
I feel like this unseen hand impacts life in ways we can't imagine because rarely do we see the road not taken. In books, we get to play with those vantage points, see the forks in the road from a wider perspective. Many stories--love stories in particular--hinge on a specific set of circumstances: meeting at a certain time, in a certain place, in a certain way. Alter the recipe, miss a connection or make one previously missed and the entire book changes. Here's proof.
What if… Jane had stopped to lace her boots on her walk back to Thornfield Hall that fateful day she first crosses Rochester's path? What if she'd never spooked his horse, who would've never thrown Rochester, who would've never sprained his ankle and not required the aid of our Jane? As we know, this dramatic take on the "meet-cute" was bewitching to Rochester.
Alternate ending: Rochester would've stayed single, and the first Mrs. Rochester would still be haunting the attic of Thornfield. Jane would never have to flee Thornfield in disgrace and would never wind up with the Rivers and never find out about her inheritance.
What if… Jane had left to dine with the Bingleys an hour earlier and missed the rain? Elizabeth would not have been forced to come to her aid at Netherfield, and would not have had occasion to tell an arrogant Mr. Darcy: "I am no longer surprised at your knowing only six accomplished women. I rather wonder now at your knowing any." (Snap, Lizzie, snap!) As we later find out, such snarky replies are what endear our Darcy to our Elizabeth, ensuring their "happily ever after."
Alternate ending: Darcy marries Miss Bingley and is miserable. Lizzie stays single, much to Mrs. Bennett's chagrin, but later makes a fortune opening her own catering business.
What if… Norah arrived 10 minutes later at the club and was pushed to the back, thereby not being within eyesight of Nick when he needed a pretend-girlfriend to piss off Tris? What if Nick then asked some other girl to pretend to be his girlfriend for five minutes--a girl who, unlike Norah, was not trying to get a guy jealous and who did not, in turn, kiss him, her fake boyfriend? An entire love story--one already full of near misses and near catches--all boils down to geography.
Alternate ending: Nick wastes six more months obsessing over Tris. Norah carries on with Tal and doesn’t experience an orgasm until her senior year of college. On the plus side, everyone gets a good night's sleep that night.
What if… Hadley hadn't missed her flight out of JFK? She would've arrived on time to London, and she would not have met Oliver. More than that, she might not have worked out some of her family issues (ditto, Oliver!). This entire book hinges on a missed connection!
Alternate ending: Hadley arrives on time, goes to the wedding, gets inappropriately drunk and says some things she will later regret. Also, she throws up on her dress. Oliver never meets her, so he attends his father's funeral alone and is sad.
What if… the two fateful events that inform the double narrative in Marchetta's wondrous, multi-layered love story never happened? The first is a car accident, which, had one of the cars left five minutes earlier or later, might not have occurred. The other is a chance meeting on a train platform before the 3:47 to Yass--a train Taylor and Jonah are both catching, ostensibly to find/see their mothers. It's impossible to untangle one connection from the other, but, at one point, Taylor seems to understand her own role in Jonah's life when she asks him: "Just say I didn't exist?"
Alternate ending: Taylor is never born. Jonah dies too soon. Too sad to even contemplate.
Gayle Forman is an award-winning, internationally bestselling author and journalist whose articles have appeared in numerous publications, including Seventeen, Elle and The Nation. She is the author of "Just One Day" and the New York Times bestsellers "If I Stay" and "Where She Went." She lives in Brooklyn, N.Y., with her husband and daughters.