Pets. Some people have cats (I have two), some have dogs. Some even have chinchillas. Marty Bell had an elephant. And that’s not even what’s most surprising about her story.
When her wife Brooke inherited her great-aunt Marty’s farm in upstate New York, Peyton Kennedy thought they’d sell it and go back to their life in New York City. Brooke insists on renovating the house and what Brooke wants, Brooke usually gets. Peyton knows how often undertaking such huge work can break a relationship, and their marriage is already shaky. But when they find a box full of letters and an old diary hidden behind drywall, Peyton immerses herself in Aunt Marty’s love affair with another woman, Vera, a circus worker.
Historical novels are not my go-to at all. I like them well enough when I read them, but they’re rarely my first choice. Neither are flashbacks. I shouldn’t have liked this book so much. And yet here I am, giving it five stars.
The letters and diary tell a story of young love (in every way, as Vera is seventeen and Marty eighteen when they first meet), discovery of oneself, of love, of loving someone of the same sex, of hoping for a future together and how life (and war) gets in the way, while, in parallel, Peyton and Brooke are a longish-term couple – they’ve been married for five years – in a rocky marriage. When the novel begins, Peyton is wondering whether it’s all worth the effort and keeps a divorce lawyer card in her wallet. The contemporary story is told from Peyton’s point of view so at first, all we see of Brooke is what Peyton is annoyed with. As the story develops, Brooke’s real personality breaks through and, through Peyton’s eyes, the reader gets to know a much less shallow and much more loving person. This couple seems doomed from the start yet Peyton comes to understand her wife is not the only one responsible for their problems and lets herself rediscover the woman she loves.
Vera and Marty’s story, beyond their love and the elephant (there really is an elephant but I am not spoiling this), opens a window onto the life of women in the late 1930s, WWII and later. Their characters show that, despite their environment, strong women managed to live independent and, to some degree, happy lives. The main message of the novel is how much has changed (and still needs to change) for women in general, and for lesbians especially, but also that badass women have always been around.
As Long As Love Lasts works really well as an audiobook. I love Lori Prince’s voice, I especially loved her voice for Brooke, and I’ll forgive the sometimes-awkward pauses for the way she says “desire”.
All this makes for an emotional read / listen, sad and hopeful at the same time, with so many feelings that I’m not recovered yet.