In Beth O’Leary’s The Road Trip, the path to hell (and happy ever after) is paved with exes and their besties.
Fittingly, their journey begins with a literal bang. Two cars collide on their way from southern England to Scotland for the wedding of a mutual friend. The bigger car is totaled, and the two vehicles' combined five people squeeze into a tiny Mini Cooper for a discomfiting 400-mile journey with plenty of baggage in tow. The resulting carpool includes Addie and Dylan, estranged former live-in lovers who met and fell hard at an idyllic villa in France; their respective best friends, Deb (Addie’s sister) and Marcus (Dylan’s appallingly awful best friend); plus the bride's mysterious wild-card co-worker.
O’Leary is a brilliant social observer and a fearless, diabolical plotter. She arranges nuances of character, class, personality and situation for maximum chaos, placing the estranged exes in forced proximity for two painful days with Marcus, the guy who pushed them apart. Dylan is an Oxford grad and a poet from a posh, aristocratic family with flagging generational wealth; Addie is a working-class girl from Chichester who now works as a schoolteacher; and Marcus, the serpent in their garden, is a reckless, dissolute lost boy.
When they met, Dylan was a guest in the French villa where Addie was working as a caretaker for the summer. Unfortunately, Addie also became the primary caretaker of her ensuing relationship with Dylan. The majority of the book alternates between the titular road trip from hell and flashbacks that highlight the origins of their dysfunction: Marcus' frequent interference, Dylan’s passivity and Addie’s mounting frustration and insecurity.
This book's cover is deceptive, as The Road Trip is neither a romp nor a rom com. It’s an intense romance with a wildly wicked sense of humor—Sarah MacLean’s epic The Day of the Duchess meets Dangerous Liaisons in contemporary casual weekend dress. O’Leary unpacks the love story from multiple perspectives—the relationship then and now, from both main characters’ points of view—as she explores how it grew, how it faltered and what it feels like to come together after two years apart. Providing an intimate view of all the emotional turmoil that entails, this brutal but addictive second-chance romance is the relational equivalent of a 365-degree tour of a five-car pileup.
Throughout the book, Marcus’ displays of dominance demean Dylan and Addie both, and Dylan barely pushes back. It may be hard for some readers to keep faith with a character who is so passive for so long. Still, O’Leary’s humor, insight and occasionally bonkers plot twists command attention all the way through, and the ending is miraculously, gloriously redeeming. The Road Trip is a romantic rollercoaster that you won’t be able to turn away from till it’s done.