I’ve been waiting for this book for what feels like forever. It’s a debut novel but Quinn Ivins has been entertaining me on social media and with her blog for months.
The Love Factor is set in 1997 and 1998, which is both a while ago and not that far in the past. It’s dedicated to “everyone who came out in the 90s”. Hey, that’s me! I came out in 1993. This story isn’t about me, however. At almost thirty, Molly Cook is a PhD student in political science in Maryland. Carmen Vaughn is her statistics professor. What appeals most to Molly at first is Carmen’s way of pushing her students. When she accidentally finds out that Carmen is a lesbian, her gorgeous but aloof teacher becomes even more interesting to Molly. Another not-so-accidental discovery about a homophobic teacher will bring them closer yet.
Most ice queens are wounded women hiding behind a facade so as not to get hurt again. Carmen isn’t so much wounded as scared to be. She’s a closeted tenured professor in a male-dominated field. She’s not out to her Roman Catholics parents either. She’s not out to anyone except her girlfriend and when that relationship ends (I’m not really spoiling, it’s very early in the story), she’s all alone. No one knows who she really is. There’s no one she can talk to about shared experience, no one she wants to talk to. But it’s the nineties, and Ellen DeGeneres is coming out and things are changing fast. Carmen’s journey is slow but inevitable.
The time period The Love Factor is set in is an intriguing choice. Ellen’s coming out, Bill Clinton’s impeachment, they’re all events that had some sort of impact in many countries besides the U. S. And as I wrote above, for people my age (I’m forty-nine), they’re part both of History and of our memories. I remember Ellen’s Time cover. I remember being part of the team that worked all night to translate the most important parts of the Kenneth Starr report for the newspaper my mother and my girlfriend (now my wife) worked for. It’s not often that I get to read historical novels set in a past I remember, and that gave this one a different feel.
The only thing that didn’t convince me entirely is the romance or, rather, the physical component. I don’t really mind, though, because the build-up, the falling in love with a brilliant woman (on both sides), the intellectual chemistry, all of this rings true. That’s good enough for me, especially from a new author. And no pressure or anything, but now I’m looking forward to Quinn Ivins’ second book.