Title: With or Without You by Caroline Leavitt
Publisher: Algonquin Books
Genre: Contemporary, Women’s Fiction
Length: 286 pages
Book Rating: C+
Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through Edelweiss
New York Times bestselling author Caroline Leavitt writes novels that expertly explore the struggles and conflicts that people face in their search for happiness. For the characters in With or Without You, it seems at first that such happiness can come only at someone else’s expense. Stella is a nurse who has long suppressed her own needs and desires to nurture the dreams of her partner, Simon, the bass player for a rock band that has started to lose its edge. But when Stella gets unexpectedly ill and falls into a coma just as Simon is preparing to fly with his band to Los Angeles for a gig that could revive his career, Simon must learn the meaning of sacrifice, while Stella’s best friend, Libby, a doctor who treats Stella, must also make a difficult choice as the coma wears on.
When Stella at last awakes from her two-month sleep, she emerges into a striking new reality where Simon and Libby have formed an intense bond, and where she discovers that she has acquired a startling artistic talent of her own: the ability to draw portraits of people in which she captures their innermost feelings and desires. Stella’s whole identity, but also her role in her relationships, has been scrambled, and she has the chance to form a new life, one she hadn’t even realized she wanted.
A story of love, loyalty, loss, and resilience, With or Without You is a page-turner that asks the question, What do we owe the other people in our lives, and when does the cost become too great?
With or Without You by Caroline Leavitt is a reflective novel of new beginnings.
Stella Davison’s twenty year relationship with musician Simon Stein is already precarious when his big break might finally be about to happen. Unhappy with their status quo and yearning for more from him, Stella has reservations about her decision to accompany him to his gig. A snowstorm strands them in New York for an extra day and after a night of arguing and drinking, Simon awakens the next day to discover Stella is in a coma. Over the few months, Simon anxiously waits in hope she will wake up. But will their lives return to normal when Stella emerges from her coma?
Stella is the responsible one in the their relationship. She a dedicated, compassionate nurse who, years earlier, quickly grew tired of accompanying Simon to his performances. While he writes songs and performs with his band, Stella is paying the bills and tackling the duties of regular life. But as he is about to leave for what could be result in his long dreamed of success, Stella finally reveals what she really wants out of their relationship.
Simon is immature and self-centered. He has never really had to deal with the responsibility of day to day life so he is forced to grow up rather quickly during Stella’s prolonged hospital stay. Although initially clashing with Stella’s best friend, Libby, they unexpectedly become friends as they worry and wait for Stella’s to come out of her coma.
Everyone is overjoyed when Stella wakes up, but no one is prepared for the differences that accompany her home. Despite her hard work on her recovery, Stella’s return to her nursing career is in question. She and everyone around her are surprised at her newfound skill as a gifted artist. Although she returns to the home she shares with Simon, their connection to one another is fragile and after a painful discovery, Stella makes an impulsive decision that has long reaching effects on the people around her.
With or Without You is an interesting novel but the pacing is slow. The characters are well-developed but they do not always make the best choices nor do they communicate with each other very well. With a few unpredictable twists, Caroline Leavitt brings this contemplative novel to a heartfelt and uplifting conclusion.