She meant to say that, yes, the thought of Emily eats at her. That she feels colonized by that letter, planted like a flag in her kitchen. That sometimes when Kathryn comes home and the letter has been moved slightly she wishes that Emily would disappear and have never existed, but that sometimes she wishes it was Chris who would disappear, or she herself, or that nobody had ever existed and the planet was still choked with algae and God was pleased.
Kathryn and Chris seem to have a beautiful relationship, as close and content as two people in this day and age can get. Yet there is something about Emily that fires Chris up, something alluring. Kathryn decides to let him explore his feelings for her, surely their sort of love is unsinkable, and it will pass. They can survive an open minded free love, she doesn’t need any sort of tit for tat existence. Then Emily gives them a chance to live in a communal home and suddenly, Kathryn herself is curious and changing, open to her own love explorations. Nothing goes quite as Chris had envisioned, and everything is a tangle. What changes when both partners have options, when someone isn’t going to wait like an empty house for you to come and go as you please?
What is it about other people that brings out a different person in us? Why are we more vivacious or tender with other people than those whom love and… suffer us most? The biggest jealousies are those different people we become in the presence of others. This novel is almost too honest, too raw with our emotional boundaries. It isn’t really about sex, is it? What kills us most is how easily our loved one naturally opens up for those they shouldn’t and ban parts of who they are from us.
What I thought would be all about lust and excitement was more of a unflinching look at the raw and honest side of love and all its complexities. Set out to give your beloved everything, to deny them no experience and even that selfless love will sour. “He seems good, actually. Adaptable. But also a little like a Chris that Kathryn doesn’t know.” There is the rub, who do we become when anyone is allowed inside our intimate bond? What happens to the creature two people create when a third enters the equation. Did Kathryn allow him this open exploration hoping he would discard Emily, rather than fall for her? Hearts have room bigger than an ocean, maybe all attractions could blossom into something, but should they? What love can survive it? Neither Kathryn nor Chris realize the cracks that are forming in their love.
It is brutal, a form of self-flagellation that Kathryn volunteers for. There are rules, ‘don’t tell her things about me.’ But rules can blur. It’s a strange experience, how Kathryn witnesses Chris with Emily. How he morphs into someone else, when he isn’t with her. How odd, to be a third wheel on your partner’s date. Kathryn pushes him into it, true… but he goes willingly. It’s what he wants. But how many women are going to just sit placidly until their man finishes eating his cake, even if she cut and served it to him? Can anyone really cut out their jealousies, is any love so strong that other people are only a ripple on the surface? Neither have any clue what they’re getting themselves into. Every choice changes our relationships. What happens if it’s too late to change your mind, why exactly does Kathryn want to give Chris such freedom?
In my mind, I’d be a lot less selfless, but that’s just me. It’s funny to imagine yourself in these stories. How big I’d be, how small. What the hell do we do to ourselves and each other in love? Interesting little story to discuss with friends, and maybe you’ll be surprised by the answers. I do know some people who claimed they were ‘open about love’ were the first to get furious and jealous when a third entered the scene. Things are so much easier conceptually. Reality is something altogether different. I liked it, but had a hard time with the laissez-faire attitude everyone had. Kathryn didn’t seem to react enough as a real person would, and at times Emily seemed so colorless that I wondered what the risk was worth for Chris. A conversation starter for a book club but I expected more passion, still it was interesting and an enjoyable read.