Short version: If you love cheesy, predictable romantic stories, If Not For You might be fine for your beach bag. As long as you also love clichés and trite dialogue. Otherwise, skip it.
If Not for You, by Debbie Macomber, is a very long novel that starts like a Lifetime movie and ends exactly where you think it will. The story is about a woman named Beth who moves from Chicago to Portland, Oregon to escape her overprotective mother Ellie. One day, her friend Nicole sets her up on a blind date with Sam. They obviously don’t connect, until later when Sam witnesses Beth get into a car accident.
It should be noted at this point that the characters are all standard stock romance novel characters, and each one is completely as one-dimensional as possible. Beth is quiet and polite, a teacher, a lover of classical music – you can also see the halo. Sam is a brooding, tough loner mechanic who likes rock music. He likes guitar and she likes piano – how can they ever get along? But somehow, in a twist that’s a surprise to absolutely no one except Beth and Sam because how could I possibly love someone different than me, etc etc, they fall totally in love. I feel like “Beth” and “Sam” even sound like the names you’d give these characters when you came up with the story in fifth grade. Because about fifth grade is when the idea of “he watched me get in a car accident and that made him fall in love with me” should lose it’s appeal, right?
Maybe I’m wrong. This book is a New York Times Bestseller, so people found it entertaining I guess. Admittedly, if it were half as long, it might be good as a relaxing read, like watching a cheesy romantic movie. There’s a reason those aren’t usually four hours long though.
The story was pretty well written and easy to read – you definitely don’t have to do any work to understand what’s happening in the story. From the beginning until the middle of the book, I actually enjoyed it. It was sweet and cheesy and made me smile. I found the love story entertaining and felt like I knew the characters personally. Characters like Sunshine, the quirky aunt, felt real and relatable, even if it was because they’re exactly like thousands of other quirky-aunt-who-paints-and-tells-me-to-follow-my-dreams characters in thousands of stories before, with literally nothing unique or new added (she’s named Sunshine, for heaven’s sake). That quickly changed however, when the book started to prolong itself and all I could do was cringe. Extra details and events seemed forced and strange considering these were adults and not teenagers. The story dragged out in minutia that added nothing to the predictable ending.
In the end, I kind of enjoyed it for what it was, but I have to say I also took some perverse pleasure in how standard and formulaic it was. If that’s what you like, this book won’t rock the boat and won’t disappoint. If you’re looking for anything unique or interesting, this isn’t the book for you.