The Fire’s Out Anyway – The Light We Lost by Jill Santopol

The Human experience is often full of regrets that rose-tint our world with what we call nostalgia and paint an elegantly beautiful image of the world that once was for us… as well as the choices not taken. Even on a good day we looked back and wonder “what if?” and we dream and glamorize how that should’ve been the choice we’d made and how much amazing it would’ve been had we not chosen… well… whatever we’ve chosen at this point in your life. However, we’ll never know…

Sometimes it’s good that we never know.

It makes it easier to focus on the world of now and make real choices

I found it odd that every image of this book cover included some aesthetic style photo. Whatever.

I was actually interested in this book because I have a soft spot for ill-fated couples and the standard I hold those types of “Slice of Life” to is Makoto Shinkai’s 5cm Per Second.

If you’ve never watched it, do! If you have and say you didn’t grasp how exquisitely painful it was — fuck you.

It is quite a high standard considering this man is hailed as the next Hayao Miyazaki (even though they are literally nothing alike but back on topic). The Light We Lost was something I picked up myself from work after reading the synopsis and thinking this sounds beautiful. I basically went in expecting 5cm Per Second level of beauty and I got Remember Me. Shame. It was alright, but not quite living up to the ambition it seemed to have. So, let’s go.

Lucy is a New Yorker who meets Gabe in a college class. He stumbles in late and they have the cute, cliche “he walked through the door and oh my god” moment and there’s feels and shit. During the class, Lucy makes googly eyes at him the whole time and finds herself interested in Gabe. This light crush is altered in the wake of the 9/11 attacks that occur on the same day. They stand together on the roof of one of the university buildings and look upon the destruction which is mere miles away from them. This highly emotional and distressing moment prompts them to share a kiss and later they share some nachos or some shit like they’ve been a couple for years. However, during this fully blooming romance, Gabe’s recently dumped ex-girlfriend calls and he leaves Lucy high and dry to go be with her. Mm-hmm.

Fast forward and Lucy is graduated as something or other and has a birthday outing with her girlfriends in which Gabe happens to show in the same lounge having just broken up with his now ex-ex-ex-girlfriend and he is very broken up about it. This becomes a reoccurring event. Lucy sees Gabe at his worse. The two decided to get together for real this time and it becomes a year of bliss for Lucy right up until it isn’t. See ominously hanging over their relationship is Gabe’s ambition. Gabe chooses his dreams and refuses to compromise on these things under the motif that “dreams are not compromisable.” Their relationship ends when Gabe cannot compromise on his dreams and Lucy cannot compromise with hers and in what is my opinion an overly dramatic end, they go on to their separate lives. This begins Lucy’s life of trials and tribulations without Gabe and her inability to stop looking back at the road not taken. The eventuality is her living in a pit of literal regret and passivity in her own future right up until, in a culmination of all her regrets, mistakes, and “not choices” she is forced to make a final awful decision out of love for Gabe.

So far so good.

Officially this story pitches itself as a loving and profound contemporary with the themes of catastrophe, regret, love, ambition, and most important choice. The 9/11 backdrop was meant to be the catalyst for a series of events in Lucy’s life and how they all connect back to the one moment where her choice took her down a way of life that she forever regretted. By alright this had the elements, the theme, and the plot to allow for a real deep, tear-jerker that should’ve left you breathless…

Or at least allowed for a good beach read. The result, however…

Sorry guys, “The Light We Lost” is not that book.

It fails to deliver on its ambitious pitch and beautiful book jacket in many forms from characterizations to the use of the themes in context, to the overall delivery and structure of writing. So let’s try to unpack the reasons this book lost its light.

Get it… Lost Light…

Meh, you kids and your music.


This a very character-driven story considering it’s written in a strange form of 1st-person point-of-view that is a bit jarring and not so much hard to follow as it takes you very much out of the story at most points. Let’s start with the major problems — I mean players of this story that could’ve been.

Um, god I can’t remember any of these characters’ last names, that’s how bland this was!


An artist in stereotypical media fashion who is what the old people call a “free spirit.” A talented photographer who, out of fear of becoming like his father and the unfortunate events of 9/11, makes up his mind that he never wants to compromise on his dreams. It is hinted that he gave “compromise” a try with his ex-ex-ex girlfriend which ended with him drunk in a lounge on Lucy’s Birthday. Gabe is incapable of compromising on his dreams and aspirations which can make him come off as selfish. However, he is trying to never regret his life and change the world. he’s basically the typical wide-eyed dreamer. However, we do not get much of Gabe or his descent into Jaded regret because this story is told from Lucy’s point of view and that’s all you get. Gabe is actually only a looming plot device in the form of a character for Lucy’s… struggle? Her story. He lacks a distinct bit of agency and you’re not allowed to experience much of him other than you’re meant to feel sorry for him, meant to feel anger towards him, but also meant to find him charming.


I am including him because he is an important plot device character in Lucy’s story as the husband she should’ve never married. Darren represented stability and security with the sacrifice of personal choice and freedom. He is quite a misogynistic character and made me so very uncomfortable in an emotionally abusive sort of way. Yet,  he was actually much appreciated as an ironic device on the fact that the carefully planned control implemented on Lucy through his ideals of romance, love, and marriage and what their relationship will be rather than what it could be is exactly the same control Lucy tried to implement haphazardly on Gabe during their relationship. Other than that he’s a very wooden character who, when shown in Lucy’s POV, is actually a very horrible person with dated ideologies about women and their place in the relationship and home. I hated this guy and the fact that he’s painted as someone who is wonderful and everything a woman would want in a secure future. But um, I’ll give you more context for him later.

And then we got the narrator…


Lucy is actually quite a creative and ambitious person who, very much like Gabe, has her own dreams of changing/bettering the world through children’s television. We learned she has begun an educational show called “It Takes a Galaxy” that teaches children realistic values and issues of the world at large. It becomes her entire career. Lucy is very passionate about this show, her career, and what she wants out of it which makes her someone initially I could get behind…

But… Lucy Basic AF

Lucy takes a back seat to nearly every major decision in her life simply because it’s what is either expected of her or is the more secure way to do something. Usually, it’s just to go against the regret she feels about how she and Gabe ended. Every single decision she makes has the backdrop of Gabe and the love they shared within it making it impossible for her to make a good decision for herself nor speak out about things she personally does not want for herself either too soon or not at all. Because of this, she traps herself in a life she never wanted with two kids she was never ready for with a man that cares nothing about her as an individual. Lucy let this happen to herself… and now she sad…

Honestly, there wasn’t much I could like about her other than her never wanting to give up her goals simply because she became a wife and mother even though Darren literally set her up to do so. However, she’s not much of a narrator, she’s really quite selfish in the worst ways while managing to also be passive in the worst ways. This novel in itself could be considered a bad influence on women but it could also be a precautionary tale about how not to take your life into your own hands.

All about perspective. Either way, Lucy… darling… Bitch you basic!

The Story Itself

“All of the Spoilers ya’ll”

The start of this book is Lucy and Gabe who just met that very day kissing on the roof with the twin towers collapsing and burning in the background as they celebrate being still alive in this very moment while people literally only miles away are dying painful deaths and/or committing suicide.

Honey, I don’t need to unpack this; you already know what’s wrong with it. Starting your shallow romance of regret and choice in the wake of a catastrophe that literally causes collective trauma for millions of people… Yeah…

Moving on.

There was a mention in the book jacket that they keep running into each other over the years as though they are serendipitous… this is in no way true. It’s not even remotely accurate in any way that can be mistaken as true and prompt this particular blurb. The only “fateful” meetings these two ever have are the initial one where they meet at Columbia University and on Lucy’s birthday in which Gabe coincidentally pops up at the bar while she’s out celebrating. He’s conveniently broken up with the girlfriend he initially left Lucy for so now it’s okay for them to be in love…

Yeah, “love.” Okay

Lucy and Gabe go into this absolutely aware of each other’s goals/ambitions yet Lucy persists in this relationship despite the advice of her friends because she believes she can change his mind. She honestly goes in believing that if she’s in his face enough she can alter his priorities and make him forget his pursuits to travel and change the world or at the very least downsize them so that he’ll stay in New York. This shows a complete and utter lack of respect for who he is and what he wants out of life. Lucy is a terrible person.

However, Gabe — most likely feeling cornered by Lucy’s subtle emotional manipulations, I dunno, we don’t get his point of view — moves ahead with his career plans and takes a photography job overseas to follow his dreams without mentioning he’d decided on it. He’d always known he was going to leave. She’d always known he was going to leave. The only reason he was holding it back was that he wasn’t sure when he was going to leave. Lucy still loses her shit on him, bitching about feeling betrayed because he didn’t tell her, didn’t take her into consideration, didn’t include her in the decision-making despite the fact that they literally discussed this beforehand and he’s never wavered in wanting to go. She’s not mad that he didn’t include her, she’s mad cause her plan to hold him down and force him to settle didn’t work. Again, Lucy is a terrible person.

Gabe does ask her to come with him as an afterthought, but she is unwilling to sacrifice her life and dreams for them to be together… hmm…

Yeah, this is the person Lucy is. I literally only managed to finish this book after this on sheer alcohol and stubbornness.

From there Lucy falls into depression and nothing cures the depression of a breakup like a goddamn rebound date! Enter Darren! Initially, a sweet guy who literally enjoys Lucy and tries his best to take things slow with her because he genuinely wants her by his side. He doesn’t rush her, he doesn’t push and pull her, he doesn’t force her to do things… at first…

Darren starts out as the man of any conventional woman’s dreams. Older, smarter, gentler, affectionate, all about the girl and making her happy. He comes with a bank account because he literally works at a bank and that boy got plans. He’d be the perfect catch for most women and seemingly gives Lucy everything she wants. Until they make the bucket lists.

Darren starts pushing her bucket list items without Lucy. He buys her a dog because he wants to rescue a dog and she wants to own a dog.  She never had a say in the dog, never got to see the other choices. Just suddenly, honey here’s this dog they can take care of and he keeps it at his place. She says she wishes she’d been a part of the decision, he brushes it off as him wanting to surprise her and he should be allowed to surprise her with things. She passively lets this go. Later, he takes her goal to go to Paris just because and plans it himself and surprises her with tickets. He took her goal/dream of going to Paris, planned it out for her (where they would stay, how long they would stay, and what they do there), and used it to propose to her under the Eiffel tower. She definitely said yes because she wanted to in that moment but honestly, who would turn down a proposal like that.  She still does not say anything.

Right up to the wedding, Lucy keeps reflecting back to how it was with Gabe and wonders what Gabe would’ve done differently in Darren’s place and bullshit like that rather than focusing on the fact that she’s headed towards a relationship she truly did not fucking want. In fact, the only time we hear from Gabe is either when he’s feeling poorly or when Lucy’s social media stalking him or sees him on TV or sees his work. Lucy basically gets to a point where she glamorizes how different it would’ve been if she’d done what she’d been trying to get Gabe to do, give up her aspirations for “love.”

Darren is running on a tight schedule — he manipulates her (honestly almost bullies her) into having a child she wasn’t ready to have. During the pregnancy, she meets Gabe again and gets jealous when she sees women talking to him despite being preggers and with her husband. My god this girl so basic. It’s not that she’s still in love with Gabe. She’s in love with what Gabe represents: freedom and a road that may have made her happier. Anyway, after she has the child, she solidly decides she could never be a stay-at-home mother. She wants to go back to work. Darren literally expects her to stay home, to stop her entire life because she’s got kids. He never once respects her career and what she’s trying to accomplish and says “well you’re a mom now, it’s your job to stay home” and even compared her to his colleagues’ wives. He was like “my colleagues’ wives all decided to be mothers after they had a child.” which tells you he never took Lucy’s aspirations seriously. He assumed that once she had a child that was all she needed. And then they both say bitterly that “this is not how I expected my life to be.”

Hmm… you’d think they’d do the healthy thing and realize this is not cool and that they are going to fuck up those kids if they stay together. NOPE! Everyone in this book is selfish as fuck!

Lucy ends up with a second child because on a trip, she forgets her birth control and Darren angrily refuses to wear a condom and still wants sex from her thus he gets his baby and she digs herself deeper into a life she literally hates (they can dress it up all they want, she hates this because if she didn’t, she wouldn’t use Gabe as an excuse to escape it). Darren does not help with child-rearing, he won’t even get up when the baby is crying to give Lucy a break. So yeah…

-sigh- then Lucy’s basic ass decides that Darren is cheating. Rather than talking about it, asking about it, maybe even confirming it, Lucy immediately runs to Gabe, has sex with him, and makes plans to run away with him until she finds out that Darren isn’t cheating and was secretly buying them a bigger house…

Ugh… Lucy finds out she’s pregnant, doesn’t know who the daddy is… and then Gabe dies. No really, that’s it. Gabe gets blown up, ends up in a vegetative state and Lucy has to pull the plug…

Yeah, it just sort of ends…. All that drama and it….just… ends…

This plot is terrible, these people are terrible, and there’s nothing romantic about Lucy’s obsession with Gabe or vice versa, her comparative thoughts about Darren or Darren’s misogyny.

These people are awful in a way that you literally want to punch them all in their respective cunts! Lucy is a horrible woman who embodies all of the tropes of “white bitch problems.” Rather than taking some initiative for herself, rather than taking control and getting away from this she uses her kids as an excuse to stay in her problems and runs off to Gabe every waking second who only shows up when he’s at his lowest. On top of that, rather than breaking it off with a guy who obviously didn’t meld with her, she marries him and I’m just left here like:

This story and all its components try to be something profound, something heartfelt. TRY being the key word and it’s a soft try…


The writing in this is done in a perspective that’s really hard to take in. It’s written in the first person thus narrated by Lucy, but it’s future Lucy recounting the events of her life to a brain-dead Gabe while carrying his baby and ends in a letter to their unborn child. This wouldn’t have been a big deal if she would’ve just let the prologue be the prologue and kept the tense present rather than past. On top of that, it’s littered with Lucy’s musings that I’m not okay with. At any point in time where I actually get remotely immersed, I’m drawn out of it by Future Lucy’s musings and attempts at being profound and it drives me nuts.

Worst of all this story is so bare bones and suffers from a bad case of TELL rather than show. We’re told everything and never experience anything. We’re not allowed to connect to Lucy in any way despite the fact that this song is about her!

This is also the most quotable book I have ever read and that is not a good thing. The book is basically a story written in inspirational Twitter memes where you can pull any phrase or sentence out of context and it could be considered #deep. It’s an entirely arbitrary attempt to go “look how profound and beautiful this is” without actually putting any thought into the content of it. Santopolo doesn’t allow the story to be beautiful on its own and thus it all feels forced… very fake. They spent more time trying to make pretty quotes that they didn’t give any thought or life to the characters other than cardboard tropes.

The Dialogue between the characters was always awkward or unbearably flat. The dialogue didn’t move the story along, it didn’t… give us much of who and what these characters were. It was all just so basic and painful to read to the point of nearly wanting to just toss the damn thing…

Because of the way it is written none of the things that were meant to invoke an emotional response hit their mark and came off as melodramatic. The need to insert things to try and get us to care just didn’t work out because Lucy and Gabe and Darren are not people that can be related to and certainly aren’t likable.

Writing-wise, the Light We Lost was very dim.


Honestly, it’s just not a very well-thought-out story that tries to make some sort of profound statement on life when in reality it doesn’t say anything at all.

Fortunately for this book, it does at least deserve one star for effort. It’s Santopolo’s debut novel so she has the chance to improve upon her writing and hopefully is checking out the “negative” criticism as well as the good to make sure she can glean something from it. Santopolo has potential if she’d try a bit harder and put more work into the story itself rather than trying to be fanciful, I think she could make something actually profound.

The Light We Lost might be good for people who prefer #quotable shit they can take out of context easily, but for me, it just felt like it was riding the hype of All the Light We Cannot See and sprinkled some Me Before You in there. It’s like those books’ non-talented, basic-ass cousin whom they have to invite to the cookout but don’t want to.

You smile at them… but you make this face behind their back:

Jesus Christ…

Seriously though, this was the most boring book I’ve read in a while and was so hard to finish. Hope you guys are liking the things I do for you. 2 Stars… feel fortunate!

-Stay Well-Read-

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