Published: February 4th, 2020
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
Genre(s): Fiction, Surreal
Length: 305 pages
The Regrets by Amy Bonnaffons is a book that holds you at arm’s length. It’s also not quite what the summary on the back advertises, but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The overall effect adds up to a bizarre and compelling story about a toxic relationship.
Rachel’s life is one of empty drudgery in an unfulfilling job as a librarian. When she notices a strange, golden-haired man at her bus stop, it isn’t long before they strike up a relationship. Their attachment only builds in intensity even though she soon learns that he is actually a ghost stuck in a strange limbo.
That summary might make you think that most of the book would focus on Rachel and her perspective, but that isn’t the case. The Regrets feels more like a collection of related novellas with different viewpoint characters. Rachel only drives the action in two out of the six sections.
The opening chapters introduce Thomas, the lingering ghost who will eventually become Rachel’s lover. The opening does a lot of heavy lifting to set up the world and its rules, emphasizing how Thomas risks terrible consequences if he makes any personal connections during his period of enforced on-Earth limbo. Naturally, he doesn’t let that stop him.
There are also two sections from the perspective of Mark, another of Rachel’s romantic entanglements. Mark is still among the living, so he would theoretically be a more suitable object for Rachel’s affections, but nothing comes easy in the world of The Regrets.
I’d had The Regrets on my shelf for a while before I finally picked it up to read along with a book club run by several of my friends from Austin. The theme of the club is “steamy” reads, i.e. romance or generally sexy books, and they picked the book because NPR deemed it sexy in their year-end wrap-up.
However, we all agreed that the book wasn’t particularly steamy. There are sex scenes, yes, but those moments of connection all ultimately curdle into toxicity as the doomed relationship between Rachel and Thomas slowly disintegrates.
Despite the fact that the book wasn’t quite what I expected it to be, I still really enjoyed it. The writing is great, and it feels like a very specific depiction of how romantic relationships can go wrong and linger after their sell-by date. I’m also always a sucker for books with a slight twist of surrealism, so I was primed to enjoy this one from the start.
After I read this, I bought a collection of Bonnaffons’ short stories. It’ll be interesting to compare her short work with this novel, which really did feel like it only just graduated from a shorter medium.
Full disclosure: I received a free review copy of this book from NetGalley.