David, the narrator of Five Days Apart, is described on the dust jacket as “bright but tongue-tied,” but I think that’s a little optimistic. For most of the first half of the book it seems more like David has some sort of disorder, like a mild form of Asperger’s Syndrome. His awkwardness isn’t just outward facing; it’s internalized as depression and paranoia. David meets Camille at a party and falls for her pretty much instantly, but he doesn’t have the confidence or the social skills to engage with her, so he asks his charismatic friend Alex to help break the ice. The ice is broken, but not for David, and Alex and Camille begin what turns out to be the first serious romantic relationship of Alex’s life. A devastated David can’t cope, and breaks off the friendship, throwing himself into his work.
So here’s the thing: Alex getting involved with Camille is kind of a dick move, because when your best friend asks you for help, especially help of that nature, you either help or don’t help. What you absolutely do not do, is date the woman your best friend is interested in. Total dick move. But at the same time, David is unreasonably jealous and possessive, especially since he’s not willing to make any sort of an effort to connect with the woman he wants a relationship with. He has a right to feel hurt (not because he has a right to her affection, but because he has a right to his friend’s loyalty), but ending the friendship and retreating so far into himself just feels childish.
The whole structure of the novel seems to hinge on feeling sympathy for David, but in the first half of the novel he mostly just comes across as creepy. When Alex and Camille start to have problems he does his best to undermine their relationship without looking like that’s what he’s doing. David goes on a trip, and he has some experiences that lead to personal revelations that he seems to process as though under water. After that he becomes easier to relate to, but the decisions he makes aren’t really any better. He does eventually get to know Camille for who she is, which is certainly progress from keeping her at a distance and behaving like he has a right to her affection. It’s a weird assessment to make, but here’s how Five Days Apart breaks down: the opening of the book is slow, irritating, and dull, the middle isn’t much better, and then miraculously the ending is really, really strong, with subtle and authentic emotional inquiry. It was just too little, too late.