Love, mar­riage and monogamy

FIC­TION

The Hamilton Spectator - - BOOKS - BRETT JOSEF GRUBISIC Brett Josef Grubisic is the au­thor of three nov­els, in­clud­ing ‘From Up River’ and ‘For One Night Only.’ Spe­cial to the Toronto Star

Non-monogamy and polyamory fig­ure in “Next Year For Sure,” true, but re­duc­tively de­scrib­ing Zoey Leigh Peter­son’s stylish de­but novel as “about open re­la­tion­ships” pretty much misses the point. The novel does pro­voke, though, in the best ways.

It’s bound to spark re­ac­tions about what Mar­garet At­wood once ti­tled Power Pol­i­tics (and Anna Quindlen later called “A Great Di­vide”): women and men and their ev­i­dently wildly dif­fer­ing ex­pec­ta­tions, out­looks, needs.

And the ques­tions the novel ef­fort­lessly in­cites — such as, “How much and what is fair to ask for in a ro­man­tic re­la­tion­ship?” and “When does free­dom (or com­pro­mise) be­come dam­ag­ing?” — are cru­cial, pro­duc­tive ones to an­swer.

Open­ing on a week­end of West Coast camp­ing, “Next Year” traces events over one year (with the ex­cep­tion of “May”-“Au­gust,” ti­tles of four grin-in­duc­ing chap­ters that fea­ture no ac­tual con­tent). The story fo­cuses on a sta­ble and happy seem­ing pair, Kathryn and Chris. For a cou­ple ap­proach­ing a mile­stone 10th an­niver­sary, they’re ad­mirably in love and smit­ten with one an­other. Ev­i­dently uni­fied, they’re hon­est, kind and car­ing — the very op­po­site of Martha and Ge­orge in “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf.” Nei­ther wealthy nor markedly am­bi­tious, they’re each other’s pil­lar of sup­port (if lack­ing pep in the sex depart­ment).

When Chris meets Emily, he’s en­chanted by her free-spir­ited je ne sais quoi. Kathryn un­der- stands; she gets crushes, too. Chris asks if go­ing on a date with this woman is ac­cept­able. Kathryn agrees: she’s thought it over, and no truly com­pelling rea­son to say no comes to mind. With that, Peter­son’s domino ef­fect be­gins.

For read­ers, the plot is nat­u­rally en­thralling, for not only do we have no idea where Kathryn’s per­mis­sion will lead, but we can de­light in the dry com­edy of nu­mer­ous sit­u­a­tions (with a visit from Chris’s un­sym­pa­thetic mother and Kathryn’s rapidly crum­bling re­la­tion­ship with a holier-than-thou bride-to-be be­ing par­tic­u­larly amus­ing), and em­pathize with the emo­tional plights of each half.

Bet­ter still, Peter­son’s a mar­vel at show­cas­ing her ca­pa­bil­ity for anat­o­miz­ing a hu­man trait: agree­ing to some­thing in prin­ci­ple, but ex­pe­ri­enc­ing emo­tional re­sponses that com­pli­cate that ra­tional de­ci­sion. And handy too: wit­ness­ing Kathryn and Chris’s ex­per­i­ment, we can learn from their mis­takes with­out the pain of the first-hand ex­pe­ri­ence.

‘Next Year For Sure,’ by Zoey Leigh Peter­son, Dou­ble­day, 272 pages, $22.

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