Book Review: The Regrets by Amy Bonnaffons

The Regrets – Amy Bonnaffons (Little, Brown and Company, 2020)

I received an Advance Readers’ Copy of this book. All opinions are my own.

This is a weird little book. I say that with some affection because, overall, I enjoyed it. But it’s weird and it’s trying to be weird and it isn’t always successful.

We meet Thomas in his moment of death. After a motorcycle accident, an angel appears to, apparently, take him on to whatever comes next. But something is wrong and instead Thomas returns to live a sort of half life while the problem is sorted out and before he can return to…heaven? (It’s unclear.) He’s in his own body but not quite a normal version of it. He’s in his own neighbourhood but not his old apartment. He sees people he knows but they don’t recognize him. He’s in limbo, on earth.

Then he meets Rachel. Here we switch from Thomas’ to Rachel’s perspective as she quickly falls in love with him. While this section is certainly compelling and the exploration of their relationship is unique, it didn’t quite work for me. Rachel figures out very early on that Thomas is dead. Yet she never really seems bothered by it. Neither of them are ever concerned about the effect this will have on Rachel (even though Thomas was explicitly warned about being physical with the living) or what she will do when Thomas is fully dead. Perhaps I’m too practical but I would have a lot more questions for this guy, especially since she hasn’t known him for very long.

Bonnaffons attempts to balance it all out by trying to show us that Rachel is odd in her own right and has been chasing a “daydream” her whole life and so is uniquely primed to fall in love with Thomas. Still, I could never let go of all the questions Rachel didn’t ask. Partly this may be because the supernatural aspect of the story is never fully explored or explained.

The second half of the novel is also not quite as effective. A third character is introduced and we follow a strange sort of triangle. While I can appreciate an open-ended story, this one felt like it devolved from its own centre and where it was the most interesting, which was Thomas and Rachel’s relationship.

In the end, I was left feeling less like I’d read a book exploring life and death and more like this was a story about an abusive relationship. When viewed from this perspective, the book takes on a new light but I wasn’t entirely sure whether or not Bonnaffons wanted us to see Rachel and Thomas as romantic or horrifying. Maybe both? Maybe that’s for the reader to decide.

Perhaps this is, on some level, what every woman longs for: the chance to become the world for another person, to prove that she is the world. I felt this urge ripening inside of me as we lay curled together on the bed. It seemed like a worthy use of my life. I mean, what else had I been planning to do with it?

At the same time: where did it end? What if the world I lived in, the world for which I’d come to stand in, was already in some way lost to me?

The Regrets, Amy Bonnaffons

12 thoughts on “Book Review: The Regrets by Amy Bonnaffons”

  1. Great review! I’ve been so interested in this book but have heard next to nothing about it since its release. (My library doesn’t have a copy yet so it might be a while before I get around to it, sadly.) It is good to know it’s perhaps not the most balanced book, though I must say the uncertainty between whether this relationship is supposed to be romantic or horrifying intrigues me. I’m still very curious, though perhaps not expecting a 5-star read at this point.

    1. Thanks! The story starts at with more of a “this is weird but kind of romantic” vibe and then goes hard into another direction and that left me with the feeling that it could work as a metaphor for an abusive relationship. Unfortunately, it wasn’t quite as fleshed out (haha, because he’s a ghost!) as it could have been so it kind of fell flat for me in the end but I would definitely read another book by the author.

  2. Hmmm I haven’t heard of this book until now so I’m so glad you introduced me to it! Sounds like a unique premise (which I’m always on the hunt for) but not well-executed, mind you, this would be a difficult idea to bring to fruition I think. I too, have lots of questions for Rachel haha

    1. I’d be curious about your reaction to it if you do end up reading it. Sometimes with books like this I feel like I would have found it more romantic when I was younger. But now with a bit more life experience my reaction is more of a, “Nope, that relationship is super unhealthy!”

  3. I looked up this author to see if she is or was an MFA candidate. A lot of times novels that seem weird for the sake of it have been MFA grads. You have to do something to stand out among so many other talented writers in a writing program. However, this writer is a PhD candidate, according to her website, so I don’t know what to make of her style. One writer who keeps popping up who appears to write weird stories for the sake of being weird (and they never seem complete to me) is Amber Sparks.

    1. I’ve noticed that too about MFA candidates. Sometimes it’s painfully obvious. In the acknowledgements of this one I got the feeling that it had started out as an MFA project and she’d been reworking it for quite a while. I guess we’ll have to wait and see if her next book is also kind of weird!

    2. She might even be in a creative writing PhD. They have those now, which is weird. You don’t need seven years in academia to write. It also bumped the MFA so that it is no longer a terminal degree, hurting everyone who has one.

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