Part Two — During: You were always bad at lying

Emily, like you, I often have trouble determining who is talking, especially when I start reading too quickly, but then once I take a step back and think about what they are saying, it seems so very obvious.  On rereading this, the differences between Jessica’s and Marcus’s motives in the conversation become quite clear.  Jessica is trying to hold herself together and to keep Marcus out.  Marcus is trying to not open up and let Jessica in wholly and completely.  He edits stories when he’s worried that she’ll realize too much and become freaked out — these realizations often have to do with her.  Jessica edits stories when she worries that Marcus will learn too much.  She’s not thinking about how her life affects his; she’s thinking about herself and the way that he always affects her.  She doesn’t want to let him in because she knows what can happen when she does.  He, remembering the power of this, too, exercises similar restraint.  Their conversations is full of false starts.  I always remember this part as an awkward beginning before a strong and easy connection, but that’s not the way it happens.  

I was also thinking about what you had mentioned about high school — Marcus doesn’t remember what Jessica does, suggesting that maybe she had reread her journals.  But Jessica doesn’t understand why she should guess Marcus’s major when he is so great at guessing her job.  In accordance with their different motives, Jessica has kept Marcus in her past, dwelling on what was.  Marcus imagines Jessica in the present, thinking about what is now.  Jessica guards herself because she so clearly remembers the pain.  So, maybe, like Marcus, we can forgive her for her terrible fake cramps?  Maybe.

If you liked that, try this: 

If you enjoy difficult yet rewarding conversations between two people who loved each but then had to leave each other, maybe to be together again, maybe to not be, then you absolutely must watch The Way We Were.  Robert Redford is a handsome, carefree man for whom things come easily.  Barbra Streisand is a fierce socialist who takes things too seriously.  They fall in love, but keep being pulled apart.  Guaranteed to make you cry and constantly imagine the situation when you could so confidently and elegantly swipe hair off of your ex’s face and say, just, “Your girl is lovely, Hubbel,” before walking away forever.


Part Two—During: Let’s Blame it on Byron

In the second section of Perfect Fifths, McCafferty gives us Marcus and Jessica’s unfiltered conversation, without the clutter of internal thoughts and second-guesses. After so much time spent apart in Charmed Thirds and Fourth Comings, so much uninterrupted dialogue between Jess and Marcus is refreshing. Clever banter during late-night phone calls brings Marcus and Jessica together in Sloppy Firsts, so it’s fitting that this exchange takes up a significant chunk of Perfect Fifths. But this conversation does not rely on Marcus providing a strange fact to prompt discussion, Marcus and Jessica now have a shared past and plenty of catching up to do.

I always find it surprising when Marcus doesn’t remember something about Jess’s past. He managed to remember details from conversations he overheard between Jessica and Hope when he was in a drug-addled stupor, but he can’t remember when Jess went to SPECIAL or their conversation outside Brandi’s office. The tongue kissing cousins conversation seems like such vital moment in the story of Marcus and Jessica, it’s astounding that Marcus has no recollection of it. Jessica claims that she only remembers this interaction because it was the first time she wrote about Marcus in her journal, which makes me wonder if she goes back and rereads her journals, or if the act of writing it down made it more memorable.

Stray Observations

  • Sometimes I have so much trouble keeping track of who’s talking.
  • Why is Jessica so reluctant to tell the story about Sunny?
  • I love that when Jessica exclaims “My high school crush-to-end-all-crushes almost had man sex with my ex,” (97), all Marcus can do is protest “almost?” (98).
  • Jessica’s clumsy attempt of faking her period is so hard to read! A “menstral tsunami in [her] uterous” (101), seriously? So embarrassing.

Though The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight by Jennifer E. Smith doesn’t take place entirely in an airport, that’s where Hadley and Oliver meet-cute. Like Jessica, Hadley misses her flight and may not make it to a wedding—her father’s wedding to a woman she’s never met. She and Oliver start chatting in the waiting area and end up sitting next to each other on the flight to London and talking the whole way there. But what happens once they get off the plane?

Part One: Before — Remember How You Were?

It’s very fitting that Emily’s post was partly an ode to Natty because he’s someone who I think is very important to this novel.  Here, finally, not only do we get Marcus’s perspective, but we get his feelings.  If you know me, then you know I’m a girl who loves feelings.  I love journaling about them, I love talking about them, I love using the phrase “I have a lot of feelings about this.”  Marcus is not this kind of boy.  When Jessica cheats on him in Charmed Thirds, she’s upset because of his lack of emotions.  When he gives the journals back in Fourth Comings, his letter to Jessica is clearly heartfelt, but it also seems controlled.  He refrained from annotating the texts, just as he refrains from dwelling over her words.  Part of his overall zen-ness is a balanced and calm understanding of his own thoughts and actions and acceptance of others.  Although there are of course many advantages to this, one of the downsides is what feels like a lack of genuine emotion.  Finally, here we get it.

Of course, we get these emotions secondhand.  It is Natty who reminds Marcus — and, by extension, us — of the way he mourned Jessica after she turned down his proposal and broke up with him.  Natty tells us how he couldn’t shower, how he was devastated.  Of course we knew that Marcus loved Jessica.  But we knew it because of the way he was happy, of the way he was persistent and the way he made heartfelt, grand gestures.  Maybe it’s just because of my own tendency to cry and journal about absolutely everything, but knowing how sad Marcus was felt very important to me.  We always knew that Marcus, or the lack of Marcus, could destroy Jessica.  Now we know Jessica held the same power over him.  Perfect Fifths starts on an equal playing field, and I love that.  

Things i would text Emily about if we weren’t writing this blog: 

I’m always so embarrassed for Jessica when she lies about having her period.  She does a terrible job with it, and it draws more attention to idea of sex, having it and not having it, then not saying anything would.

I don’t know if you knew this, but Megan McCafferty once wrote on her blog, or maybe on the news section of her website, about how she wasn’t sure what her fifth book would be or if she would have one — I remember her once saying something about a 10-year reunion — but that she heard of a rumor about a Breakfast Club sequel where the characters were trapped in an airport.  And that’s when she immediately knew what this novel would be.  Love it!  

If you liked that, try this: 

My post is so late because I’ve been distracted by being home on Thanksgiving Break, so I’m going to recommend the book that I read over break: Two Boys Kissing by David Levithan.  This novel is narrated by a Greek chorus of a generation of gay men who died of AIDS as they watch the sometimes overlapping stories of young gay men, including two ex-boyfriends who attempt to break the world record for kissing.  Speaking of emotions, I cried all over this story.  

Part One—Before: You Know I Can’t Smile Without You

We’re finally here—Perfect Fifths! It’s been three and a half years since we last saw our girl, and it’s been that long since she and Marcus have seen each other. Jessica is late late late for her flight the Virgin Islands, where she’s supposed to officiate Percy and Bridget’s wedding. Marcus and Natty are just getting back from a volunteer trip to New Orleans. And then—BAM—Jessica and Marcus collide. One of my favorite parts about this novel is that we finally get Marcus’s perspective. And he’s still got it bad for Jess.

Thank goodness for Young Natty and his unlikely friendship with Marcus. Marcus hasn’t really had any actual friends before this point. He was friends with Heath, but they were too high and Heath died too soon. Later, Marcus had Len, but Marcus was never honest with Len, particularly with the Len/Jess matchmaking gambit. Natty may be an unrepentant douchebag (or just 22 and entitled), but he’s the perfect foil to a sadder but wiser Marcus. Natty makes it impossible for Marcus to take himself to seriously.

My recommendation is based entirely on the fact that Len wrote a hit song about Jessica and Marcus. In Audrey, Wait! by Robin Benway, Audrey breaks up with her boyfriend Evan, because he’s a self involved jerk and she doesn’t look back as he screams, “Audrey, wait!” Then Evan writes a song about the break up, performs it with his band the same night, and the song becomes a huge hit. Being infamous makes Audrey’s life pretty complicated.

Fourth Comings: What Ifs

This novel hinged on Jessica making a decision: would she say yes to marrying Marcus or would she turn him down, breaking up with the man who was finally, and somewhat permanently, back in her life.  So, I thought in this wrap-up, we could play a small game of What If.

What if Jessica had said yes

What would this novel look like if, immediately after the proposal, Jessica had said yes with Marcus kneeling naked on the floor of his dorm room?  The rest of the week would chronicle her move out of her apartment and into Princeton.  She’d write the journals as a way to remind herself everything she had to ask and tell Marcus about when he returned from his retreat.  They would chronicle her fight with her roommates about her bailing on rent, her finding a one-bedroom apartment a half of a mile from campus, and her decision to continue working at True while perusing a Masters degree.  Hope would agree to be her Maid of Honor, but during the wedding planning process would be in the same room as Jessica and Mrs. Flutie, and then the truth about the childhood love, the break-up conversation, and everything else about Hope and Marcus’s relationship would come out.  Because she was already stressed about planning the wedding her mother insisted on having (which she agreed to partly because she couldn’t disappoint her niece/flower girl), Jessica blows up at everyone in the room, throwing the ring and storming out.  She keeps their Princeton apartment because while living there, since she had already started working on her Masters, and the TA money was kind of nice.  With Marcus as not just an ex-boyfrined, but an ex-fiance, Jess assumes they are over for good.  She throws herself into a relationship with an older, pretentious philosophy professor, who never wants to marry.  They move in together the following summer.

What if Hope had told Jessica about her conversation with Marcus

and, of course, she also would have told her about their shared past.  Jessica would be furious, but would place all of her anger on Hope, storming out of their apartment.  She would cancel her trip to see Marcus, feeling not in control of the situation.  Instead, she would seek solace at Bethany’s house, where she was still the single girl with the great stories.  Jessica continues to stay at their beautiful apartment until she is Marin’s full-time, live-in nanny.  One night after drinking too much white wine with Bethany, she drunk dials both Hope and Marcus to break up with each of them over the phone.  Eventually, Bridget and Percy come to save her from herself, as they often must.  

What  if Jessica and Marcus had broke up in his dorm room 

and Jessica returned home to the apartment, so devastated that no one mentioned the bet and she never found out about Hope and Marcus’s shared past.  Jessica would not really be able to let go of Marcus, like she hadn’t years earlier, and obsessively check the Princeton newspaper for photos of him and try to eavesdrop on 18-year-olds in the city who looked like they may have taken the train in for the weekend.  Hope would confront her about this months later, and assure Jessica that Marcus, too, wanted to break up, hoping that the information would allow Jess to move on.  Instead, Jessica feels the break-up all over again and lashes out at Hope, causing the worst fight that they have ever had and prompting Jessica to move in with her now close friend and business partner, Cynthia.  The heiress enjoys the company in her expansive apartment, but feels sorry for her sad roommate who seems disappointed everyday when the mail comes and there is no postcard for her.  

But what really happens to Jessica and Marcus after he returns the notebooks?  We’ll start thinking about that on Monday with Emily’s first post on Perfect Fifths

Saturday: A Response

Dear Emily,

I never considered that we already know Jessica’s answer, since she wouldn’t need to give Marcus her journals if her answer was yes, but you’re absolutely right.  Your observation reminds me of a story  — just as Jessica’s does for Marcus.  I don’t know if you’ve ever read The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood but it’s a dystopian novel that ends (spoiler alert) with the reveal that the story of the novel was collected and preserved as a relic from a past society.  Atwood said that she included this ending to give her readers hope — if that story was a relic from the past, then the present was quite different.  She was inspired, she claimed in an interview I read, by the newspeak glossary in the back of 1984.  Similarly, she noted, one would only need a glossary to explain newspeak if it was no longer the dominate language.  Marcus gives the journals back to Jessica because he thinks they rightfully belong to her, but maybe also because he doesn’t need them.  If he thought they were the last words he would hear from someone he loved, do you think he would return them?  Looking back, I’m positive he wouldn’t.  He’s letting go, but I don’t think he’s giving up.  And even though I don’t think she had definite plans for a fifth novel at the end she wrote this, I don’t McCafferty wanted us to, either.



Saturday: Forever or Whatever?

It’s decision time. Will Jessica accept Marcus’s proposal, get married, and move to Princeton to be with him? Or will Jess break up with Marcus like she originally intended? I think we all knew, or at least suspected, the answer before reading the last chapter. We’re set up to know that it’s not going to work, because why would Jessica write about her decision making process if she were going to say yes? If that were the case, she could just tell Marcus everything. This level of documentation suggests that Jessica won’t be around to share.

I always forget that Marcus returns the notebooks to Jess, which is probably a healthy decision. It would be so tempting to keep rereading the journals and wallow in the inevitable heartbreak. And as sad as their breakup is, I can’t imagine Jess and Marcus getting married, or even staying together. Fourth Comings shows us a Jess and Marcus whose love isn’t right for now.  Marcus shuts down because his dad is sick. Jess resents Marcus for his reticence and dislike of NYC. Marcus only proposes to prevent Jessica from breaking up with him.

When I think of something with a great bittersweet ending, I think of Waitress. Jenna (played by Keri Russell) is a small town waitress, married to a man that she hates, and pregnant with a baby she’s not sure she wants. But she makes amazing pies, with inspired names, like “Falling in Love” Pie, “Lonely Chicago” Pie, and “I Can’t Have No Affair Because It’s Wrong and I Don’t Want Earl to Kill Me” Pie. The cast is great and includes Nathan Fillion as her OBGYN, Jeremy Sisto as her awful husband, Adrienne Shelley and Cheryl Hines as her coworkers, and Andy Griffith as the curmudgeonly diner owner.