book review

“Until We Meet in Denver: A Memoir” by Ioanna Arka

Rating: A good book!

Blurb:

Unromanceable. Un-fall-in-lovable. Unwanted, undesirable.


No wonder your husband barely ever spoke to you, much less touched you. No wonder why you never left this marriage. Who would want you? Who’d look at you with anything other than scorn or ridicule? Certainly not your new American friend with the stunning blue eyes. Of course not. Affairs are for attractive women, after all, not for the likes of you.

And yet, sometimes, what you’ve always needed was right in front of you all along. Sometimes, the road to happiness is nearer than you ever thought possible.

And, sometimes, you’re good enough just the way you are.

Review:

I was not expecting it to be this good.

This is a poignant, heart-wrenching, and at times frustrating exposé on just how long and arduous the journey to self-acceptance can be. I was hooked from the dedication—Ioanna makes it clear from the start that this is a journey of self-discovery rather than a love letter for someone else, although in a way, it is that, too.

Ioanna is just discovering her worth. I relate immediately. Although I do have a supportive husband, I’ve been with him since I was eighteen. We have two kids, and I often feel as if I’m expected to meet everyone else’s needs before my own. Some days, it drives me to tears. If my husband could not pick me up when I fall, I would be a fucking wreck all the time.

We discover that Ioanna’s husband is likely autistic, but he gets help, she sticks by him, and things get better. Still, resentment festers. Ioanna has missed out on a lot, and now she wants to live a little. Totally understandable.

She lets herself go. She steps a toe outside of the safety net of her marriage and falls immediately for a “gorgeous summer boy” from America. Her husband knows, by the way, which wasn’t immediately clear to me at the beginning. But she reveals, while discussing a therapy session she and her husband had together, “We have become modern.”

The love she has for this blue-eyed American boy is one-sided, and it never goes further than Sunday hikes, violin lessons, and a trip to Greece which could have been so romantic but just wasn’t. Because it turns out he’s this unfeeling, manipulative jerk who she spends way too much time and effort on.

If that seems harsh, it’s because I’m projecting. I loved a boy in school for five years. We would have two-hour phone conversations, yet he wasn’t interested in me. He didn’t want to date me, but he drove to my house on Valentine’s Day to bring me flowers. He wouldn’t date me, but he dated my best friend and when I revealed that she said he wasn’t a good kisser, he approached me in class and asked when I was going to give him kissing lessons.

But he wasn’t interested. We went out together. We saw movies. We jumped in the ocean together in the middle of November. But we were never dating.

What the actual fuck?

I met up with him again once while I was home from college. I realized at that moment, during one hour-long meal together (the last time I saw him before he moved to Michigan), that it wasn’t me. It was him. He had crippling social anxiety and probably a host of other issues, but I was so obsessed with him—with the idea of him—that I’d never noticed.

Now, mostly, I just feel guilty. He needed a friend, and I was a shitty one because all I could think about was his blue eyes and how nice our last names sounded together.

I could not imagine trying to navigate that trainwreck of a learning experience at 38, with a husband, kids, and a job to think about. So, I spent much of this book seeing exactly where this was headed and mentally screaming “Don’t do it!!!!”

But the best books certainly elicit emotional reactions, don’t they? And Ioanna got there, to the same place of peace—or at least calm—that I did. She realized what she had with her husband, that the love had always been there despite her ability to perceive it.

It is always easier to see love—and the lack thereof—once you’ve learned to love yourself.

I found it very compelling that she was so open about and familiar with her own flaws. You can see her struggling throughout the book to get to that place of peace. And, as she says towards the end, she probably needed the experience of the blue-eyed boy to reach her self-acceptance:

“I’m like those Japanese vases repaired with gold: my seams are gleaming, and now I’m whole again.”

Her writing is simple and impactful but also intensely visceral. The timeline jumps around, but the story is very organized. I only had two issues with the book:

  1. I felt the Beast metaphor fell a bit flat and was ultimately unnecessary.
  2. I was a bit confused on who was who in her life for the first few chapters. At one point, I thought Chet was the husband.

Turns out, she never names her husband or her unrequited love (though she leaves a tantalizing hint at the end). It adds to the personal feel of the book. Ioanna still has her secrets. But I’m so glad she shared so much with us.

And I’m so glad his lame ass moved to Denver.

Favorite Lines:
  • “We pass a Ferrari, a beautiful sleek thing sprawled on the asphalt, a gleaming red wound in the harsh afternoon sunlight.”
  • “Human connection is not socialist.”
  • “Challenging your myths is scary.”
  • “…it’s good to stand on the mountaintop and look at how far you’ve come, even if there are still some peaks unconquered.”

Follow That Author!

Random Thoughts:
  • Nice Sorrows of Young Werther reference.
  • She breaks the fourth wall so effortlessly.
  • Thank God she has such good friends.
  • I have no idea what any of these section titles mean.

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