Sweet Sorrow

Houghton Harcourt. May 2020. 416p. ISBN 9780358274278. $27.
With his usual grace, Nicholls (Us; One Day) plumbs human relationships, this time offering a singular reading experience about one young man’s fraught coming of age. At age 38 and on the verge of marriage, Charlie Lewis looks back at his hapless 16-year-old self: His mother has left, taking only his younger sister, and he’s stuck tending his depressed, heavy-drinking, financially floundering dad, which brings on a funk that wrecks Charlie’s academic career and likely any chance of attending college. Then he meets the seemingly unreachable Fran, not rich but from a more established family, and he overcomes his class self-consciousness and apprehension of Shakespeare to join a production of Romeo and Juliet in which she’s starring, just to be near her. He’s no Olivier, but his life is subtly reshaped by the camaraderie of the acting life, which former actor Nicholls articulates beautifully. Meanwhile, Charlie and Fran spar wittily as they build toward a relationship that feels fresh and unexpected when it arrives.
VERDICT As Charlie notes, displaying a growing understanding of Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet “[is] stuffed with anticipation,” and readers will be, too, as Nicholls masterfully unfolds events. The depth of feeling between friends, family members, and lovers, first time or not--Nicholls captures it all. Highly recommended.

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