Stella and Simon are starting to run into problems. An up-and-coming rock musician when they first met, Simon has been clinging to dreams of fame, and now that his band might finally be on the brink again, he wants to go on the road, leaving Stella behind. But when she falls into a coma on the eve of his departure, he has to make a choice between stardom and his wife. When she wakes a different person, with an incredible artistic talent of her own, the two of them must examine what it is that they really want.
... a poignant, instantly compelling novel about love, change and the power of timing ... far more perfectly paced than this review makes it seem. Leavitt layers every page with suspense and potential --- both for celebration and devastation --- and measures them out in equal parts, letting the narrative ebb and flow in ways that are both comfortably predictable and jump-out-of-your-chair shocking. This is a deeply moving novel, and the way that Leavitt plays with fate, the shifting of time and her own characters’ growth drives the emotion home to make it all the more intimate and personal ... Although Stella is technically the main character, it is Simon who experiences the most growth and has the most satisfying story arc. Leavitt allows him to surprise and upend readers’ and his own expectations at nearly every turn, while still keeping his character grounded and believable ... This is an unflinchingly raw and honest novel, but it is also propulsive and suspenseful. The characters are so wholly realized and developed that they seem to move on their own, with Leavitt simply pulling the strings above them. She is a brave and risk-taking author, and With or Without You is a perfect picture of what she can do when left with a spark of inspiration and a gripping premise.
In the hands of another writer, like Amy Sohn or Emma Straub, these bougie New York types might have been subject to a touch of satire. But Leavitt is not an ironist. She takes her characters and their troubles very seriously, more like Celeste Ng or Joshua Henkin. But there’s also a splash of near-magical realism, when Stella returns from her coma with a gift of creativity and insight that verges on the superhuman. A little touch of Alice Hoffman or Elizabeth Berg, you could say ... What I like best about Leavitt — her signature, perhaps — is her fearlessness with plot. I’ll take a good coma story with a miracle recovery anytime.
... a book peppered with some sloppy prose ... written from the comatose Stella’s point of view. Her dreamy, frustrated monologues are so particular and evocative that the reader can’t help but feel some of the character’s confusion and fear ... Because we see and hear the story through the voices of three different characters, it’s sometimes hard to know whose story this is. Who, exactly, do we really care about? Whose childhood trauma was the worst (Libby’s!)? Who do we hope will transform for the better? ... As it turns out, all of them emerge as the better angels of their natures. Their middle-aged awakenings are filled with some less-than-enlightening discoveries ... ultimately about how we turn catastrophe and regret into something transformative, and we can’t help rooting for these characters to finally find the fulfillment that so eludes them.