I have a complicated relationship with apocalypse fiction right now. In some ways it feels too soon post-COVID. In other ways, it feels cathartic. And sometimes it’s just a wild ride of suspense, tension, and suburban family dynamics. Welcome to With Regrets, by Lee Kelly.
We enter the story at the dawn of a dinner party. Or, as hostess Britta Harris-Che calls it, a Sunday Soiree. Four couples are invited to the lavish affair. Britta is an Instagram influencer and she would very much like to collaborate with the company of one of the guests. That’s the entire reason for the soiree.
Unfortunately, some of the A-list guests backed out at the last minute. Britta has not let that deter her, rounding out her guest list with several people who would rather be elsewhere.
There are tensions simmering before the party even begins. Squabbling spouses, bickering neighbors, and secrets that are itching to be exposed. This party is a simmering stew of discontent.
The couples have chosen to ignore what’s happening elsewhere in the world, particularly in the UK. An entire country has gone dark. No communications in or out. But the soiree must go on.
With Regrets follows this ill-fated party as the wider world arrives on the Harris-Che doorstep. As we know from recent history, adversity doesn’t always bring people together. It certainly doesn’t bring these people together.
Lee Kelly serves up petty spats, devastating catastrophe, and cavernous relationship chasms in With Regrets. Each chapter is written in the third person from the point of view of a different guest. Only the women narrate.
We learn about who these people think they are and how they are perceived by those around them. The two rarely mesh. As they race to survive an unknowable opponent, their priorities and insecurities are on wild, cacophonous display. You’ll love them and hate them, usually at the same time.
With Regrets is a fast-paced page-turner in a relationship wrapper. These characters are confronting a world-changing disaster. The combination of inner and outer turbulence has the book racing from one crisis to the next.
My only complaint about the book is that it is sometimes hard to tell who is narrating. The women’s voices are not always distinct enough, especially as the pace accelerates. Lee uses a few other techniques to bring us news from outside this claustrophobic bubble and these are effective. They give us information without relying on random exposition and help push the plot forward.
With Regrets does an excellent job of placing an apocalyptic event into a microcosm of human relationships. When the characters’ bubble of wealth and privilege bursts it’s messy and the fallout is almost as dangerous as the nightmare outside.