Nostalgic, bittersweet, and achingly melancholy, The First Time Lauren Pailing Died was a touching and enjoyable read. Spanning through Lauren Pailing’s childhood in the 70s, adolescence in the 80s, and early adulthood in the 90s, Rudd was able to capture the essence of the time periods in a subtle yet powerful manner, allowing us to slip back into the “simpler” times with a pair of rose-coloured glasses.
Reminiscent of the 90s movie, Sliding Doors, where we watched Gwenyth Paltrow’s life split in two parallel directions when either missing or catching the train, and Kate Atkinson’s book, Life After Life, in which the character continually dies and begins life again with the vague sensation of unexplained trepidation towards choices that had previously led to her demise, Rudd takes us on an exploration of the existence of alternate parallel lives of both Lauren and those closest to her- the quantum physics of alternate realities, if you will. Rudd depicted the many lives of Lauren Pailing and her family with a delicate intricacy, and although the novel jumped back and forth between the different lives, I didn’t feel lost or confused once I got into the story. (Because of this intricacy, however, I wouldn’t recommend jumping in and out of the book sporadically).
Each time that we journey through an alternative life of Lauren or her family, the disappearance of a man named Peter Stanning remained consistent. As each version of Lauren’s life begins to compound, I felt like the urgency and weight of needing to figure out what happened to him grew to the point that I could palpably feel a nagging sense of unease as a I read along, which really propelled the story forward and provided an enjoyable element of dramatic tension.
Overall, I felt that Rudd created a beautiful and touching narrative exploring grief, loss, love, and the possibility of simultaneously living more than one life, and would recommend adding it to your to be read list if you’ve ever dreamed about the what-ifs or the paths not taken in your life.
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