Three years after her husband Max's death, Shelley feels no more adjusted to being a widow than she did that first terrible day. That is, until the doorbell rings. Standing on her front step is a young man who looks so much like Max; same smile, same eyes, same age, same adorable bump in his nose; he could be Max's long-lost relation. He introduces himself as Paolo, an Italian editor of American coffee table books, and shows Shelley some childhood photos. Paolo tells her that the man in the photos, the bearded man who Paolo says is his grandfather though he never seems to age, is Max. Her Max. And he is alive and well.
As outrageous as Paolo's claims seem; how could her husband be alive? And if he is, why hasn't he looked her up? Shelley desperately wants to know the truth. She and Paolo jet across the globe to track Max down; if it is really Max and along the way, Shelley recounts the European package tour where they had met. As she relives Max's stories of bloody Parisian barricades, medieval Austrian kitchens, and buried Roman boathouses, Shelley begins to piece together the story of who her husband was and what these new revelations mean for her "happily ever after." And as she and Paolo get closer to the truth, Shelley discovers that not all stories end where they are supposed to.
There were things I loved, things that had me melting, and moments that just didn't compute. Before Ever After isn't something I'd normally pick having sworn off time travel romances... but the epilogue saved me from days of agonizing over what if's and what could be's. The very same epilogue that's got me craving baked eggs and cheese.
The last book of stories in another story that I did read was one I didn't love so much. In it, I kept waiting for the big connect, the common thread that pulled everything together. Only there, said thread came a little too late for my taste. I ended up with was a series of good and not-so good stories that felt disjunct. Not the case here. OK, maybe I'm lazy but I liked knowing that each story in this one led to another one, that they all shared something in common. I appreciate the fact that Before Ever After isn't a rehash of other love story meets time tavel. You know, the ones that involve the same characters over and over again or those doomed to repeat mistakes of old unless something different is done? Instead, here there's one soul touching plenty of others. I loved that Ms. Sotto lays it out and makes things plain from the start, "Girl meets boy. Boy meets girl. Boy dies, but not really." Only Shelley and Max's love story isn't standard at all.
Add the fact that Before Ever After is pretty easy to follow and that's even with all the shifts from the then's and the now. Going from one steady continuous point in Shelley's present to most of Max's past and then to their past as a couple; things went by at a rather quick pace. It had me engaged, interested. And I thank gosh for clarity, not once did I get lost in it.
What's better is how each story had me feeling a little more connected to Max (in a mostly 'aaw' isn't he sweet/sad kind of way,) but also feeling slightly bitter and heartbroken for her. Because with each story is layer of what made Max Max.
I liked that she sounded so much like me: with her plans and lists, and her being scared. I liked that she came across as realistic, not uber beautiful but beautiful in his eyes. Not super brave given her constant statements of fear of commitment. Also, I liked how they all sounded! The people on the tour with them; the people in his stories; Paolo too. All off them, were if not sad and imperfect, were most defintely possible. Of course possible, whilst overlooking the time travel aspect. And convenient pairing among them too had me weaving stories and finding parallels in my head. Jonathan to his Rose, almost had me imagining what Max and Shelley would be like. Simon and Brad, new to each other, another pair M & S could become. And Dex! Whose story was sweet but honestly, just a little strange.
But most of all I liked how each new thing she learned had her seeing him in different light. He was far from perfect... but could be selfish, even heartless IMO.
A tad unbelievable was how easily she came to believe Paolo. (Yes, I know this is a weird place to start nitpicking over what's 'incredible,' especially since BEA is premised on time travel or more specifically (view spoiler)[an immortal, whose history is traced alongside stops on a backpacking tour! (hide spoiler)]) But, I found it incredible to have this woman jump on a plane on the heels of a virtual stranger mainly because he bore an uncanny resemblance to her three years dead husband! Any way... it is what it is and she believed what she did.
And the sudden (re)introduction of a needless foe, one literaly taken to be the bogey man. I mean wasn't Max's life complicated enough with time travel, imortality and a grandson lookalike?
The ending too would have annoyed me no end! But thank gosh I was patient enough to turn that last page and see then read the epilogue.
Again, that same epilogue has got me