Title: This Close to Okay
Author: Leesa Cross-Smith
Narrators: Kamali Minter, Zeno Robinson
Publisher: Grand Central Publishing
Publication date: February 2, 2021
Print length: 311 pages
Audiobook length: 9 hours, 46 minutes
Genre: Contemporary fiction
From the award-winning Southern writer who Roxane Gay calls “a consummate storyteller” comes a cathartic novel about the life-changing weekend shared between two strangers: a therapist and the man she prevents from ending his life.
On a rainy October night in Kentucky, recently divorced therapist Tallie Clark is on her way home from work when she spots a man precariously standing on the side of a bridge. Without a second thought, Tallie pulls over and jumps out of the car into the pouring rain. She convinces the man to join her for a cup of coffee, and he eventually agrees to come back to her house, where he finally shares his name: Emmett.
Over the course of the emotionally charged weekend that follows, Tallie makes it her mission to provide a safe space for Emmett, though she hesitates to confess that this is also her day job. But what she doesn’t realize is that he’s not the only one who needs healing — and she’s not the only one with secrets.
Alternating between Tallie and Emmett’s perspectives as they inch closer to the truth of what brought Emmett to the bridge’s edge — as well as the hard truths Tallie has been grappling with in her own life — This Close to Okay is a vibrant, powerful story of two strangers brought together by wild chance at the moment they needed each other most.
In this moving, surprising, dual-narrator novel, we meet two damaged souls who find solace and hope through their accidental meeting.
When Tallie sees a man poised to jump off a bridge, she immediately tries to intervene, gently using her words and music to encourage him back from the brink, then continuing to provide companionship and support in the hours and days that follow. She doesn’t approach Emmett as a therapist, although she is one — instead, she offers caring and compassion, as well as shelter and a safe space.
Over the course of their time together, each slowly opens up to the other, but at their own pace, and keeping secrets even while sharing hopes, fears, and past hurts. They each also cross boundaries, aware of infringing on the other’s privacy but somehow justifying this through good intentions.
The book shifts point-of-view between Tallie and Emmett, and through their alternating chapters, we learn about the events in their lives that brought them both to this particular moment. Each has been through hurts and suffering, and while Tallie shares the pain of her husband’s betrayal and subsequent divorce, Emmett keeps his past largely to himself, hiding the source of his desperation and suicidal impulses, and even hiding his true identity.
The beauty of This Close to Okay is in getting to know these complex characters and seeing how the different struggles in their lives have contributed to where they are as the story opens. It’s lovely to see their interactions and how they each affect the other in deep and meaningful ways. The story is not action-packed — it’s really about the characters and how they connect, and that’s probably why it resonates on such an emotional level.
Sure, there are some elements that I could quibble with. Tallie takes a huge risk by bringing Emmett into her life and into her home, and it’s hard to believe that a modern woman in this day and age would potentially compromise her own safety in such a dramatic way. Yes, Emmett is trustworthy and respectful and safe, but she really couldn’t have known that up front, could she? Likewise, I have a bone to pick with Tallie’s decision to not share with Emmett that she’s a therapist. She knows that her professional obligation toward an official client would be to refer him for treatment and report an attempted suicide, but she rationalizes that Emmett is not her client as part of her decision to just spend time with him and offer him a place to rest and regroup. She has compassionate impulses, and since this is a novel, it all works out, but looking in from the outside, this feels like a very risky and unprofessional path to take.
The audiobook made for a great listening experience. I appreciated the expressiveness of the two narrators and how they voiced the characters and the more interior moments. I did struggle a bit with the male narrator’s lower vocal register, which made it hard for me to catch all the words clearly, but that may be more about my own hearing than the actual narration!
Overall, I did love This Close to Okay. Despite my disagreement with some of the plot points, I was completely caught up in the story, and felt my heart break over and over again as more is revealed about Emmett’s painful past. I will say as well that I was pleasantly surprised that this book does not fall into the common romantic tropes that pop up so often in contemporary fiction. The characters’ development and well-being is the point, and the plot supports this very well without making romantic entanglement the dominant focus.
Side note: I always love when fictional characters are revealed to share some of my geeky loves… so when Tallie pulls her copy of Prisoner of Azkaban off the shelf to read to Emmett, I just about swooned!
This Close to Okay is a moving story about two sympathetic people, and I truly enjoyed getting to know each of them. By the end, I felt very invested in their lives, and loved how beautifully the author conveyed their journeys.