"Angie believed a relationship must be perfect," so begins the protagonist in Jim Keeble's excellent, laugh-out-loud memoir Independence Day*, "you get what you settle for, she always said, and she followed the courage of those words".
The first time I read Keeble's book was as an 18-year-old. I had little in the way of life or relationship experience, but in the cocky way of youth, believed I knew everything about men and love anyway. A few more years than I care to think of later, I re-read Independence Day: A Broken Heart's Voyage Around the USA with a fresh eye, and fell in like with it all over again.
The story is written in the same wry, self-deprecating, lightly humorous style of Nick Hornby and follows the journey of a broken-hearted Brit who has just been dumped by his Canadian girlfriend of seven years on a half-baked trip across America to find himself again.
It's practically the godfather of Eat, Pray, Love, or the male version of it anyway.
It's a tale oft-told, and like many such stories, the reason it will resonate with readers is because it holds some bittersweet inherent truths about romantic relationships that everyone who has ever gone willingly into long-term monogamy can relate to.
Keeble writes about the ups-and-downs of his seven-year relationship with Angie, from the time she moved to London to be with him in the early days of their love, to the gulp-worthy moment when he went down on bended knee before her at Niagara Falls and her swift "no".
In frank prose, book Jim says: "I wanted to be married to Angie. Why? I was thirty. That had something to do with it. But it had more to do with her. With Angie. And the fact that she was the first woman I knew in my life that I loved. How did I know? No one else had ever made me vomit from the fear of losing her."
This is truly a heartbreaking story to start with, but it's ultimately one of redemption, as such books often go. I won't spoil it for you, of course, you'll have to read it for yourself to find out if Jim wins Angie, or some other woman, or whether he swears off women altogether and finds himself instead.
In typically human fashion, Jim decides that the best way to get over Angie is to travel all over the US, starting with Vegas. Along the way, he meets many, many ladies, whom he ineptly tries to, er, romance, to get over his broken heart. Each chapter in the book is named after a particular woman - Aki, the Vegas showgirl, Mary from California, Wendy, a Florida dolphin trainer, Debbie the ex-cheerleader, and so on.
Either it's incredibly easy to meet nice girls in America, or (more likely) Keeble himself is a charismatic, likeable sort of lad, probably a bit of a heartbreaker in his time. I looked up the author and found this recent interview with him, where he talks about his liking for foreign women.
It also contains a spoiler for the ending, so either read it after you've read the book, or if you don't mind knowing certain details about the author's life beforehand.
Independence Day isn't the kind of book with a big twist that reveals all anyway, and you can already sort of predict how the story will turn out from the beginning, so it won't matter too much if you know.
Keeble's journey is the perfect summer read, a bit like an ice-cream cone, sweet and cold with extra sprinkles.
* No relation to Independence Day, the doomsday film starring Will Smith where aliens come to take over earth.
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