REVIEW: THE DAY WE MET, BY ROWAN COLEMAN

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Claire Armstrong is struggling to remember details about her life, about the people she knows and presumably loves, and the feelings attached to those people. She has been a teacher, a single mother to Caitlin, and now a married mother to Esther, who is three. But along the way, the details of her life have changed dramatically.

Why is everything around her, along with pieces of her very being, disappearing? And why does a man she just met by accident in a coffee shop feel so important to her? Why does she clearly remember him and keep meeting up with him? Who is he and what is their connection to one another? And why does her husband Greg seem like a stranger in their home?

It is a mystery, but is it a feature of her illness or one of life’s surprises? Alzheimer’s disease, which is Claire’s diagnosis, has a way of carving out bits and pieces of her mind and emotions, without rhyme or reason.

Multiple narrators, beginning with Claire’s voice, take us into the past, and then headlong into the present with its confusion and disorientation, followed by moments of clarity. We also read alternate narratives from Greg, her husband; Ruth, her mother; and Caitlin, her twenty-year-old daughter.

One of Claire’s tasks, in her lucid moments, is to somehow pave the way for those she leaves behind. But when she is not clear, she feels like a prisoner, which is why she constantly tries to escape. Running away blindly and then getting lost, she experiences a wide range of emotions, from delight at the escape to paralyzing fear at the moment she realizes she no longer knows where she is or even who she is.

Caitlin’s story is one that captured me, too, with her own personal struggles of identity, along with a quest to find her father, whom she believed had abandoned her. Will she find a new connection that can help heal the loss of another? And does she carry the gene that could bring out this disease in her own body? Does she want to know?

The Day We Met: A Novel is set in Guildford, with an occasional journey to London and Manchester. The story of Ruth, Claire, and Caitlin, as well as the people in their lives, is clearly etched against their surroundings, just as their connections to one another define them.

There were surprises along the way and some feel-good moments at the end as some earlier mysteries sorted themselves out. The way the story flowed between the past and the present seemed to illustrate very clearly how the lucid moments came and went in Claire’s mind. An unforgettable story that was both poignant and surprisingly happy, too. 5.0 stars.

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