With or Without You
By Caroline Leavitt
Published August 4, 2020 by Algonquin Books
After almost twenty years together, Stella and Simon are starting to run into problems. An up-and-coming rock musician when they first met, Simon has been clinging to dreams of fame even as the possibility of it has grown dimmer, and now that his band might finally be on the brink again, he wants to go on the road, leaving Stella behind. But when she falls into a coma on the eve of his departure, he has to make a choice between stardom and his wife—and when she wakes a different person, with an incredible artistic talent of her own, the two of them must examine what it is that they really want.
Unapologetically honest and intimately written, With or Without You is a contemporary story of what happens to relationships as the people in them change, whether slowly or in one cataclysmic swoop.
With or Without You is a beautifully written book about a trio of slightly broken people facing crisis points in their lives.
Simon and Stella have been a couple for 20 years. She wants to get married and have a baby, but Simon is still pursuing his dreams of rockstardom. The night before he’s supposed to leave for a tour that could jumpstart his band’s career, Stella slips into a coma. Simon abandons the trip and stays by Stella’s side. As he navigates his life with Stella’s precarious condition, he finds himself growing close to Stella’s best friend, a doctor named Libby. When Stella emerges from her coma, her personality has changed and she is now a talented artist who can see into people’s souls when she draws them.
This was such a gripping book. I really felt for Stella. She comes out of the coma sort of lost. She was a dedicated nurse before, but now art is the only thing that brings her comfort. She tries to find her way back to Simon, but she’s just not the same person anymore. And Simon, who’s a bit of a manchild, is forced to pull himself together. His band moves on without him, and he gets a job. And then there’s Libby, who’s great at her job, but not so great at life. She’s Stella’s best friend, and although she initially doesn’t like Simon, they grown close as they bond over their shared love (and worry) for Stella.
This is a raw portrait of midlife crises. Stella was coming to a turning point before the coma, and she comes out of the coma deeply changed. I liked reading about her finding her passion for art and how it brings her peace. Simon’s passion is music, but he’s having to face the fact that stardom may have passed him by, and he has to figure out what his life will look like without that dream.
With or Without You is a really lovely book about love and change. While it’s a bit sad, it also shows that there’s hope in embracing change. I highly recommend it.
I received an ARC from the publisher.