In spite of the rather unwieldy title, “I Thought You Said this Would Work,” by Ann Garvin, is a story that drives home the idea that love is what connects us whether it’s our love for our partners, our friends, our family, our children, or our animal companions. Love is a universal truth, and love can make us move mountains—or at least attempt to—if someone we love needs that done.
In Garvin’s newest novel, she introduces three women who were best friends in college; best friends in a way that transcends what we think of as “BFFs” or people we hung out with. These women, Katie, Holly, and Samantha, were sisters—but sisters who adored each other and needed each other. Each complemented the other, and the three were inseparable—until the night Holly left without a word and didn’t talk to Samantha again. So while Holly and Katie remained friends, and Katie and Samantha remained friends, the Samantha and Holly friendship didn’t exist anymore.
We learn the story through Samantha’s voice as she shares their relationship, and their adventures, in first person narrative. We come to really like Samantha, her insecurities, her honesty about her issues, her reflections about her childhood with an abusive father and a mother who shrunk in on herself rather than face conflict. When Samantha began to exhibit a sleep disorder, where she would fall asleep when there was conflict, her mother actually seemed to approve. “It’s not a terrible thing to have a shutoff switch,” she told her daughter. And Samantha still has that disorder; when the going gets tough, Samantha falls asleep.
At the start of the novel, we learn that Katie is in the hospital, and her friends are terrified that the cancer she fought has returned. She is alone since her divorce when her husband Tom took her beloved dog Peanut and moved to California with his new wife. While Katie had fought valiantly to keep her beloved dog, her ex had more money, and in the end, that’s what divorce often comes to—which side has the most resources and can afford lawyers to fight the longest. So Peanut, a diabetic Great Pyrenees, moved to California with the camper that was needed to transport Peanut anywhere. In smaller vehicles, Peanut would pass out from stress.
Now that Katie is in the hospital, she desperately wants her dog. And when Tom’s wife calls Katie to tell her that Peanut is in a shelter, Katie is determined to get her dog back. That requires someone to go to California and drive Peanut back, because Peanut is too large and too sick to travel in cargo on a plane. This leaves her two best friends, who don’t speak to each other, with a dilemma. Holly is willing to go, but she doesn’t like animals (she can’t even bring herself to say Peanut’s name, just calls her “the dog”), and she faints at the sight of blood or other bodily excretions. Her wife is also pregnant. Samantha’s daughter has just left for the summer, so she is free to go, but with her sleep disorder, and the number of naps she’d need to take, it would take forever to drive back from California to Wisconsin with Peanut.
The only solution is that Holly and Samantha go together. Samantha is hoping that during this trip, she will be able to find out what happened to end their friendship. She has missed Holly, and her heart aches at the thought that something she inadvertently did might have caused the rupture in their relationship. Samantha’s only “family” are her daughter, Maddie, and Katie. Her husband died before Maddie was born, and over the course of the story, we learn that he was not a good husband and that maybe Sam stupidly married her father (figuratively speaking).
There are other characters who become important. Drew is the medical resident who catches Sam napping in the hospital room next door to Katie’s. He has snuck in there to answer a call from his wife, and he explains that they are in the process of getting a divorce. The attraction between Sam and Drew is clear: he is handsome, funny, and thoughtful. But Sam is insecure and can’t believe that a man might be interested in her, especially such a charming and good-looking one. And she’s leaving in a day to drive across the country. But he agrees to keep her updated on Katie’s condition (in a general sense, no HIPAA violations!), and they text each other. Summer was the person in the seat next to Sam on the flight to California. (Holly opted to fly first class with her points.) Summer has an almost magical way of seeing through situations and knowing what lies underneath. She is also able to help them in their quest, and although they doubt her at times, we know that she’s kind of like their fairy godmother, albeit with her own problems and issues.
I was drawn to this novel because of the many connections the story seemed to have to my life. The dog who has accompanied me to school to work with students for the past decade is named Peanut. (Google “Miss Peanut therapy dog” for more information about her 15 minutes of fame.) I rescued a Great Pyrenees named Sadie at the grand old age of eight, and she became a therapy dog before I had Peanut. The women’s trip detours to Best Friends Animal Sanctuary, a place I visited with my mother many years before, and I, too, walked a pig. I am even fostering a senior dog who is not diabetic, but the reverse; she suffers from chronic low blood sugar due to insulinoma. I must take her blood glucose levels, just as Sam will have to do for Peanut.
But interestingly, while the animals are the impetus for the journey the former friends undertake, and the whole story revolves around them, the actual message that Garvin imparts is about self-reflection, forgiveness, stepping out of our comfort zones in the name of friendship, trusting others, and realizing that in the end, love trumps all. Not a romantic version of love, but an all-encompassing love that we feel for our close friends, our children, our family (if we are lucky), and yes, our animal companions.
Garvin’s tale of a road trip is designed to show us the characters of Holly and Sam, and the true character (in both meanings of the word) of their new acquaintance, Summer, a D-list Hollywood has-been who joins their caper and helps (or rather aids and abets) them in their quest to get the camper, find the dog, and return to Wisconsin as soon as possible. And we are rooting for this to happen. We want Katie to have the dog that “lay on top of her during the chills of chemotherapy. The dog who knew Katie was going to throw up before Katie did. The dog that had sniffed out Katie’s cancer the first time by burying his big nose in her lap and refusing to move.” (Dogs really do that, you know.)
The animal lovers among us will chuckle when, during the road trip, Peanut throws up. Holly, not-a-dog-lover, complains that he has thrown up on her shoe. Summer responds, “If you give Moose (Peanut’s new best friend who couldn’t be separated from him) a minute, I’m sure he’ll just eat it anyway.” Animal people know that when the cat throws up, the dogs hover there, waiting until the cat’s back is turned, when they can chow down. Garvin knows this, and she knows that we will connect with it.
The book is filled with humor, and it’s easy to find humor in their situation. But Garvin also solves the puzzle of why Holly left and why she never talked to Sam again. It’s not funny; the reason is filled with pathos, and we are heartbroken at the capricious nature of fate that allowed that to happen. Summer, their new friend, is able to help with not just the driving, but much more. She becomes the ingredient that makes the mix complete; her gentle persuasion and coaxing allow Sam and Holly to discuss—and confront—mistakes they made in the past. Garvin forces us to consider the many kinds of love that we, if we are lucky, encounter in our lives. And she writes, “This was the comfort of love. It didn’t cure cancer or reduce the pain of childbirth, but it cloaked lovers, friends, and family in an embrace that stretched far and wide and was supremely difficult to break, despite our best idiotic efforts.”
Read about friendship, about what we do for those we love, and about three friends, lost for a while, who find that together they are stronger.
Please note: This review is based on the advance readers copy provided by the publisher, Lake Union Publishing, for review purposes.