I actually read this book a year and a half ago, but is one that needs to be acknowledged here. It is one that has stuck with me, and has been scribbled down and e-mailed countless times to my friends. Have you ever allowed yourself to wonder "what if"...if you'd made this decision over that one, married this person instead of that one...how would your life had changed? This book allows a delightful opportunity to peer into a parrallel life of Irina, our protagonist, and actually see the "what if".
Irina has lived in London with Lawrence, an intellectual think-tank manager, for a decade. Their relationship is comfortable and maybe a little boring. Every year they get together with their friend, Ramsey, a devil-may-care snooker champion, to celebrate his birthday. One year, Lawrence is out of town and Irina decides to continue with the tradition by herself. Irina and Ramsey proceed to get hammered (or in London, "pissed") and approach the fork in the road. You see this coming, right? At this point in the book, there are two "Chapter 2's", "two Chapter 3's", etc. In the first of the two chapters, Irina falls for the dashing Ramsey, ultimately leaves Lawrence, and lives the unpredictable and non-stop life of a snooker wife (or more appropriately a snooker widow). In the second of the two chapters, Irina resists temptation and stays with Lawrence, steadfastly loyal but bored out of her skull. Each outcome is so completely different, and unexpected, and I won't ruin it for you.
Shriver is a very talented writer and is a joy and a hoot to read. This book is FULL of ironies, some absolutely hilarious. The two story lines intertwine fabulously. For example, in one parallel life, Irina and Ramsey visit Irina's family for Christmas, Ramsey gets toasted and trashes the place, and Irina is left apologizing. In the other life, it is Irina that drinks too much and makes a mess, and Lawrence has to pick up the pieces. These clever little slights of hand had me laughing out loud. It was rated in the top 5 must reads of 2007 by Entertainment Weekly, and I know that I will read it again.