Timmer amazes in her debut novel | Review of ‘Five Days Left’


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By: Cynthia Ayala

In this brilliant debut novel Five Days Left touches upon the heart wrenching ordeals of what it means to lose what’s most precious in life.

Author: Julie Lawson Timmer

Published: September 9, 2014

Publisher: Putnam Books

Genre: Contemporary Fiction

Mara Nichols was once a successful lawyer, juggling her home life with her love of her life and her adoptive daughter. Until she was diagnosed with a terminal disease. Scott Coffman, a middle school teacher, has grown to love the child he has been fostering with his wife while the biological mother is in rehab. Both have five days left to say goodbye to the ones they love…but can they do it?

Five Days Left is the debut novel of Julie Lawson Timmer. Published on September 9, 2014 by Putnam Books, Timmer has created a gut wrenching contemporary novel of two people who have five days to live out what they love. One story follow Mara who is the adoptive mother of one Laks, whom she adopted from India. The problem is that Mara has been diagnosed with Huntington’s disease. As the pain from her life threatening and incurable disease grows, not just on a physical level but on an emotional level, she decides to take her life in her own hands, planning out the last five days of her life to say goodbye to everyone she loves and prepare herself for her end.

The initial story arc focuses on Mara as her Huntington’s disease begins to take its toll on Mara. The novel follows her as she lives out her final days before ultimately taking her own life. Throughout the progression of the novel, readers follow her on her journey to accepting her face. Going back and forth between the past and the present seamlessly, the reader grows to understand her decision to take her own life and it inspires respect for the character rather than just overwhelming pity. The intensity behind the story is incredibly emotional that it creates such a strong connection to the reader to see her character experience the shame and heartbreak that she is going through. TImmer delves into the emotional form of the character on such a level that given all the strength she exudes and through all the pain she suffers and humiliations, it’s those moments where her strength fails her that her reader really delves into the emotions of the characters. Readers will feel her rage, her sadness and by the time the novel is done, readers will respect and understand the characters choice to take her own life with heartbreaking sentiment.

The secondary story arc that ties into the first one follows Scott as he goes over the last five days he has with his foster child. But events cut them short and the story takes one such a toll, examining the relationship between Scott and his wife who loves kids but doesn’t want to be a mother of any other child other than her own. This creates a lot of tension between the characters and resonates off the pages. While the initial reaction of his wife is understandable, it’s her reaction, how she responds to her husband that makes her such an unlikable character, whereas her husband, while he has a saint-like disposition to help the children around him. Timmer uses all of these elements to create a sympathetic character. His story – his narrative – focuses more how he feels about his wife and the heartache he feels at losing a child that grew to be him.

Nevertheless, while the stories are intertwined by an online forum that connects the two main protagonist, comparatively, the second story lacks the emotional latch that the first story – Mara’s story – creates. His story focuses more on what he wants from life and all the obstacles that stand in his way while Mara’s story delves into the emotions of the character, tying in past events and the present to formulate the pain – emotional, psychical and physiological – to give the story such a gripping aesthetic. Readers are unable to pull away as they seek to understand what exactly her character is going through.

Five Days Left is a heart-wrenching tale that effortless builds the characters on a groundbreaking level, building the emotion between the characters and bridging the gap between reader and character. ★★★★☆ (A)

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