Reviewed by Kate Schefer
Tess and Gus are meant for each other. Most modern romantic books will start with an idea like that. However, in Miss You, Eberlen takes the thought a few steps further. What if they really were meant for each other? Destined to meet and fall in love, as evidenced by the myriad ways their lives had intersected ever since their first chance encounters in Florence. They are both eighteen and vacationing in Italy before going away to college. Tess is camping with her best friend Doll, who is almost her opposite: loud, glamorous, boy-crazy, and prone to indulgences. Gus is with his parents, who he’s pretty sure don’t like him, especially not since the death of his brother Ross the winter before. Ross was always more promising: funny, athletic, smart; and Gus is counting down the minutes until they can go home. Tess and Gus run into each other on the last day of their respective vacations, but won’t meet again until they both (independently) return to Tuscany as 34-year-olds.
The sixteen years in between trips is laid out in the middle pages, documenting every relationship, job, break-up, promotion, and child they have, putting them closer and closer to each other. Tess’ story focuses mainly on the loss of her mother shortly after she returns from Italy. At eighteen, she is not ready to lose her mom, let alone to become a mom to her younger sister Hope. She’s the first one to suspect that Hope is a bit different, and when she finds out that Hope has Asperger’s, things suddenly become a lot clearer–and harder. Over the years, Hope grows up, and Tess finds herself abandoning her sense of self to watch it happen.
Meanwhile, Gus starts college that Fall and studies medicine like his parents want and like Ross had been doing. By the New Year, he’s dating his classmate Lucy, whom he leaves six years later for Ross’ former girlfriend Charlotte, who is a doctor in the same hospital he and Lucy are doing their residency in. Charlotte is already pregnant and they are determined to stay together and become a real family. They move, they have another daughter, his mother comes to babysit during the week and they both work fulfilling jobs as doctors. It’s as perfect a life as Gus would ever hope for, but then Charlotte leaves him for an older man and brings the girls with her, and Gus falls into a depression that even his oldest college friend Nash can’t help him out of.
So Tess and Gus end up back in Italy, in a Villa compound for creative people to get away and create. They run into each other the first night and realize that they had met there before. And in many other places, at many other times, in many other ways. Even though they are well into adulthood, they feel as if their lives are just beginning.
I have to say, this is a pretty emotionally taxing book to read in just a few days, which I did. The reading went quickly because the writing wasn’t very dense (though at times it veered in the opposite direction of flowery and a little unclear). But the plot covered sixteen years in two people’s lives, which means that a lot of ground was covered in not a lot of space. There were a number of dramatic and tragic events that occurred, which I am torn about. It felt a bit like overkill, but at the same time, maybe that’s just because their lives were so condensed that obviously the dramatic parts must receive more attention and it just seems like it’s over the top. I have not yet lived thirty-four years, so I can’t say what a normal amount of tragedy for an adult life should be. Something tells me it’s less than what these characters experienced, but I’ll leave this up to other readers to decide.
Another thing that I struggled with was how even though the book was fairly long, and should’ve been able to delve into certain topics and events, it still felt superficial. Tess has this huge fear of breast cancer running in her family, and her getting it, and this plot line carries through a large part of the book, and then she has major surgery and it’s totally glossed over. And Gus will have very long, non-committal relationships with women and never think twice about what that means (seriously, he’s not even sure if his own wife loves him; what kills me is, he never bothers to find out). I’m afraid that in the pursuit of action and drama, Eberlen neglected to spend some time in her characters’ minds, and develop them emotionally and mentally. At the end of the book, they hadn’t seemed to progress a huge amount from where they first started.
More disappointingly, there was hardly any time spent on the two of them finally getting together in Italy. The entire book was leading up to these moments, yet Eberlen didn’t really give herself the space to develop their relationship. As a reader, I love coming up on the last chunk of the story, when everything is still up in the air and I wonder how the author’s going to tie everything together in the final scenes when there are so few pages left. I had the feeling, during this ending, that Eberlen was thinking the same thing, and pulled away when she should’ve leaned in and taken her time crafting a satisfying and realistic ending for Tess and Gus. Maybe I’m too cynical, and not romantic enough, but this book left me feeling a different way than I think Eberlen intended.
Kate Schefer has a BA in Creative Writing from Elon University, and currently lives in Minneapolis with her boyfriend. She is on a never-ending hunt for the best cup of coffee, and the best park bench upon which to sit and read a book, and drink said coffee. If you approach her, she will make you wait for a response until the end of the chapter, because she never uses bookmarks.
Review copy was provided free of any obligation by Harper. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.