I love Elena Graf’s writing, it’s different from all the other authors I love and it takes me straight into her world. It’s smart and witty and it makes me feel smart and witty too. And she doesn’t shy away from sensitive topics (breast cancer in High October, domestic violence in The More The Merrier, rape and sexual harassment in this one) but deals with them in a very delicate yet pragmatic way.
Erika Bultmann, a professor of philosophy at Colby College, has decided to take a sabbatical to write a book and enjoy her summer home in Hobbs, close to her best friend, Dr Liz Stolz. She has a huge crush on Lucille – Lucy – Bartlett, former opera singer and the new rector of St. Margaret’s by the Sea Episcopal Church, whom she met at Christmas (read The More The Merrier to know more about that). She’s determined to get to know her better, and Lucy seems interested too. The two women become good friends, and the attraction between them keeps growing but Lucy wants to take things slow. Really, really slow. To her, “making love is a sacred act”. Lust isn’t enough, she needs to be in love and she needs to know the future they envision suits them both. Their views on life and love and marriage differ on many levels and while their love for each other is indisputable, they need to talk, but life keeps getting in the way.
Elena Graf writes cleverly about the conundrum that falling in love can sometimes be. Her characters are older women, they’ve already lived many lives, have had relationships, made life choices. They are not all bright-eyed and hopeful, they’re even a tad cynical at times. I had a little trouble visualizing Erika, I couldn’t get the physical description to fit her personality but I blame my lack of imagination, not the author. I liked that she is so similar to Liz in some ways, most notably their superior intelligence, dry wit and their no-nonsense take-charge disposition – I love Liz, she cracks me up as much as she annoys me with her “straight man” attitude, to quote Lucy – yet also very different in others. Erika is a romantic, she’s very straightforward, she’s stubborn and despite what she seems to believe, she’s vulnerable. I wouldn’t be surprised to learn she’s on the spectrum, which would also explain why she gets on so well and so fast with young Emily (read the book, you’ll see what I mean). She also has a lovely relationship with her elderly father. Family relationships and what makes a family is one of the main themes of this novel, along with religion vs. philosophy and the complexity of respecting others’ beliefs without compromising one’s own. It may sound boring but trust me, it is not.
I also love how unashamedly sexual Lucy is. Honestly, Lucy is the sexiest priest ever. Her view of sex as sacred prevents her from jumping without thinking into a sexual relationship but once she’s in, she’s all in. I love everything about her. She’s kind, she’s generous, she’s sexy, she knows who she is, she’s also open to change and growth. Seeing these two women, who appear very different but share the same values, come together is captivating.