Author: Samantha Sotto
Release Date: August 7, 2011
Description: 297 pages, non-YA (Crossover Appeal)
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.
Samantha Sotto is a Filipina, as am I. I picked up this book because I thought it would remind me of home- which it did. I know that sounds weird considering the fact that I AM home, but usually when I immerse myself in the pages of a particularly good book, I tend to lose my surroundings and fall into the world of the characters instead. And usually they’re in an American or fantastical setting, which is a good thing, but I was just happy that for once I could experience an adventure closer to my heart. And did I mention I love to travel? That’s exactly what this book is about, and I think the fact that they visited strange and overlooked sanctuaries that once were important elements of lost civilizations, really deepened my appreciation for the book. Somehow, it made me ask why I was even alive only to be forgotten in the end, but I am a sucker for books that make me think and ask questions. And while the events in the book were decidedly maudlin, I still appreciate how much I felt for the characters and their losses. They were deep people, and shallow characters are pet peeves of mine, so I am happy with the way they were presented. Though there were some issues, this book is definitely one I’d revisit.
Is He An Immortal?
The story starts with Max’s death. Immortality is a subject that’s always been sensitive to me, because the concept of death is the inevitable outcome that’s scared me since childhood. For this reason, I’ve thought of immortality myself, and what it would mean to be one, but Max made me understand why it’s so much more complicated than that, because as opposed to the state of being, you’re in the state of being forever. I really loved Max, because apart from being a witty tour guide, he was also loving and thoughtful, and he cared and treated a lot of people like family. He tried his best to protect the people most important to him and sacrificed a lot of things for the sake of others. Though it bothered me how carefree he was around women, that was hardly enough to make me disdain him. It’s not only the sex appeal that has worth to me, but the charm and charisma as well. Max definitely exceeds expectations on both counts. It’s just that he’s way too perfect sometimes that it’s hard to imagine he even exists at all, much less for the thousands of years he could have been living, were I to confirm that he was indeed an immortal.
But is he? Read to find out.
Is She An Immortal’s Widow?
Shelley fell flat for me a lot of the time. The fact that she didn’t get over Max’s death till the end really made me fear that she was too weak to cope with things that didn’t go her way. If Paolo hadn’t turned up at her door, she would have remained in solitude trying to deny the truth, and that was hardly the way anyone should have been living. I was also a bit disappointed with the way she fell in love with Max, because apart from winking at her, telling her stories and making her want to have his children, Max didn’t really do anything to make her love him the way she did. And be that as it may, I thought their romance was borderline insta-love. However, I was glad both of them didn’t act on the impulse to soon and remained rational with their decision making. Shelley’s bouts of jealousy annoyed me, and I think it’s unusual how she could despise someone at first sight, especially if all they did was talk and stay close to a near stranger she fancied. She had some issues, but the bright side was that wasn’t stubborn, and listened to the better judgment of other people in situations she couldn’t handle. She could feel the innate good in people who didn’t exactly make you think good the moment you meet. She was quick to forgive, slow to forget, but not too trusting. I think the fact that she clung on to the remaining part of Max after left made her strong in the face of loss. I admire her for that.
A Slight Detour
I really loved the travel scenes in this book. The hidden sanctuaries held lots of fascinating stories from the past, and the way the author was able to incorporate Max’s mysterious reappearance into the scheme of things impressed me. Her writing was also pretty wicked- the comebacks and counter-comebacks of the campers really kept me entertained when they were obviously set against a backdrop of melancholic stories that made my chest tighten up into a knot. I also really loved the way the book detached me from reality and made me laugh and cry and feel the characters’ emotions. The writing style was outstanding. I understood Shelley’s sense of betrayal and loss of a loved one. I felt Max’s sense of duty and loss of humanity, as well as the earnest desire to get it back. The stories of the other characters also made me love them, and I think I learned a lot of important lessons from what these characters taught Shelley during her trip. Samantha was also able to weave through words so amazingly and unconventionally at the same time, that it was hard for me not to get impressed. For a debut novel, Before Ever After is a huge, huge step forward. Though the ending seemed a bit rushed and disappointing at first, I didn’t exactly scorn it the way most others did (maybe just a little). Overall, the book really spoke to me: in living a “happily ever after” it is truly only the “happily” that counts, because “ever after” hints at ending, and true love is not supposed to end.
Forgive the cheesy.