Someone Else’s Love Story
- Joshilyn Jackson
- 320 pp
- Reviewed by Ellen Boyers Kwatnoski
- November 19, 2013
A botched robbery at a southern convenience store sets in motion an unlikely interaction between a college-age mother and a scientist.
Someone Else’s Love Story, the new novel by Joshilyn Jackson, a New York Times best-selling author, tells the story of Shandi Pierce, the college-age mother of a brilliant 3-year-old, Natty, and William Ashe, a hunky geneticist with a tragic past. When Shandi and William meet during a botched robbery at a Circle K convenience store outside of Atlanta, their lives are changed in dramatic and unexpected ways.
Shandi, along with her best friend, Wolcott, has packed up her VW, left her beautiful and devoutly Christian mother back in rural Lumpkin County, and headed for her Jewish father’s condo in Atlanta. Although the move is eminently practical — Shandi and Natty will be closer to the Georgia State campus where Shandi is a student — it feels to her mother like the ultimate betrayal. She and Shandi’s father are in bitter, if amusing, competition for their daughter’s love, not to mention her religious affiliation.
During the robbery, Shandi realizes she must abandon her fantasy that Natty’s was an immaculate conception but involved a real human, likely her rapist. As soon as Dr. Ashe recovers from his gunshot wound, she will enlist his help in tracking down her son’s biological father. Despite the recent loss of his toddler daughter, and, we’re led to believe, his wife, William Ashe is intrigued by Shandi’s dilemma and agrees to help.
Told in alternating chapters — Shandi’s in first person, William’s in third — the narrative is lively, fresh and often hilarious. Each voice is distinctly its own. Shandi’s is peppered with millennialisms: “The tests said my kid was rocking an IQ north of 140 ... ” The liberal use of “effing,” “bring it,” “freakin’” and statements ending with question marks makes her an authentic, if at times annoying, 21-one year old. William’s more mature narrative is equally quirky, as we’re told that he’s an “Aspie” who has had to learn to navigate social situations and interpret emotional cues. He does not seem to notice, until his brash and thoroughly delightful friend Paula points it out, that Shandi has set out to seduce him. William and Shandi have best friends of the opposite sex: salty Paula and the endearing poet Walcott, “the sperm-donated product of a pair of lesbians.” Both are loyal protectors of their friends.
Although an entertaining romp, the novel keeps the reader in the dark well into the story regarding a crucial fact upon which the narrative depends for its forward momentum. Even William, from deep inside his own head, manages not to give it away. The reader may feel a twinge of betrayal at being misled, but with a satisfyingly sweet resolution, can forgive the author in the end.
Ms. Jackson takes on lofty themes — faith, friendship, love and loss, not to mention the odd miracle — and delivers them with a distinctive Southern twang, “Atlanta, straight up, with a twist of hick.” If you’re rocking a 20- to 30-something demographic, you’re likely to be drawn in, even charmed, by Shandi and her sidekicks. If you’re somewhat older, perhaps a fan of clean, spare writing, this is not the book for you.
Ellen Boyers Kwatnoski is the author of a novel, Still Life with Aftershocks, which was a semi-finalist in the 2012 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award Contest. She blogs about art, design and dance at http://ellenkwatnoski.com/ and lives in Alexandria, Va., with her husband, son and growing collection of mid-century ash trays.