The Man I Love by Suanne Laqueur
The Man I Love
Winner of the 2015 Beverly Hills Book Award, Suanne Laqueur's astonishing debut novel follows a young man's emotional journey to salvage relationships destroyed in the wake of a school shooting.
As a college freshman, Erik Fiskare is drawn to the world of theater but prefers backstage to center stage. The moment he lays eyes on a beautiful, accomplished dancer named Daisy Bianco, his atoms rearrange themselves and he is drawn into a romance both youthfully passionate and maturely soulful. Their love story thrives within a tight-knit circle of friends, all bound by creativity and artistry. A newcomer arrives--a brilliant but erratic dancer with an unquenchable thirst for connection. And when this disturbed friend brings a gun into the theater, the story is forever changed. Daisy is shot and left seriously injured. And Erik finds himself alone in the aisle, looking down the muzzle of a pistol and trying to stop the madness. He succeeds, but with tremendous repercussions to his well-being and that of his loved ones.
Traumatized by the experience, the lovers spiral into depression and drug use until a shocking act of betrayal destroys their relationship. To survive, Erik must leave school and disconnect from all he loves. He buries his heartbreak and puts the past behind. Or so he believes.
As he moves into adulthood, Erik comes to grips with his role in the shooting, and slowly heals the most wounded parts of his soul. But the unresolved grief for Daisy continues to shape his dreams at night. Once those dreams were haunted by blood and gunfire. Now they are haunted by the refrain of a Gershwin song and a single question: is leaving always the end of loving?
Spanning 15 years, The Man I Love explores themes of love and sexuality, trauma—physical and mental—and its long-lasting effects, the burden of unfinished business and the power of reconciliation. Through Erik’s experience we reflect on what it means to be a man, a son and a leader. A soul mate, a partner and a lover. What it means to live the truth of who you are and what you feel. What it means to fight for what you love.
The Man I Love is a longer book and one that took me a good while to get into. It is about 600 pages long and took me until 60% to really get into the story. Yes, that is quite a ways through the story, but you still have a good chunk left so by the end I was loving it. Some slight spoilers ahead as I am going to speak to when I started enjoying the story and a few plot points in the last half.
The first half of the book is Erik and Daisy at college. It is told entirely from Erik's point of view and this first half I found him a strange narrator. I never really felt anything that he told me about. I didn't see the great love between him and Daisy. Really it seems like they has sex a lot and he was enamored by her from the first moment he saw her, but I never really saw the connection. I didn't really feel connected to anyone in the story for the first half. It states in the synopsis how there is a shooting and I just kept waiting for it to happen. Daisy is a dancer, Erik in the technical theatre doing lighting and such, and the shooter was this odd new guy who shows up one week. There is a lot that goes into the story, the author is very detailed, but I never really cared that much. You would think a school shooting, people dying, Erik trying to help save Daisy, having everything that happened detailed out, I would have been in the story and it would be intense. It wasn't for me. This was my book club read and most everyone else was really into the story the whole time, but it just was too detached for me. The writing didn't make me get really into the story so I cared as much as I do when I see something like this in the news. It is terrible, horrific, but I was not actually there so I don't know what it was like. Even though you are given that scene of the shooting I still don't feel like I was really there. I didn't really get all the emotions that would be associated with it.
After the shooting everyone just kind of goes on this downward spiral. Erik and Daisy still love each other, but they can't seem to get their physical relationship to work for a while, and then they start using drugs with their other friends and it is just not good. It was strange to me that no one tried to get these kids to talk to someone about what happened. I know this takes place in the early 90's, so there might not be the same resources as today, but I remember when I was younger whenever something happened, like a classmate died or something, they had grief counselors and everyone kept telling us that we could talk to someone if we needed it, etc. It just was odd that no one ever mentioned it to these characters. So of course they spiral out of control until Erik catches Daisy sleeping with another one of their friends. And that is it. Erik is done, refuses to even speak to Daisy again after that. He just cuts and runs and never speaks to anyone from his college days again. Or at least not for many many years.
So Erik gets a job in the theatre and he is still floundering a bit, but seems to be keeping it together somewhat. He cannot get over what Daisy did and he still has not dealt with the trauma of the shooting. He received postcards and sometimes phone calls from Daisy for years, but he never responds. Until the moment that engaged me in the story. Until the moment it all stops. Until after years of trying Daisy finally packs up his things and sends them to him with a note that that is that. She will not be contacting him again. That moment, when he received that box and note saying she was done, when he truly lost Daisy, that almost brought me to tears. That was so raw I just couldn't help but be there with the character. It was just such a change in the story that it shocked me how strong my reaction was to it. I was surprised that I teared up reading it as I didn't think I was that into the story. It was a beautiful scene.
After that Erik flounders for a minute, then finally starts to get some help with everything. That section was so well done for me. From there on out it was like a different book. At one point Erik describes the shooting and those events like he was in a fog and now the fog is finally lifting. For me that was like this story. The first half was not engaging to me since it was like Erik was in a fog. Then he gets jolted out of it with Daisy's last letter and then he comes out of it. He engages. He tries to move on and be better and it was just an incredible read then. Erik still has some ups and downs, but he tries to make a life for himself. There are some new characters added in, some I really enjoyed, and it was just so much fun to read. You are never really sure in the last half if this book if Daisy is going to show up again. I must say it would have worked either way, if she did come back into his life somehow or if he just was happy with a new life, new people. I won't ruin it, but Erik does seem to end up happy. The ending is a bit open so you can fill in the blanks yourself, and it was perfect for the story. I cannot wait for the next book to see Daisy's version of the story and what happens to her after everything!
Rating: ★ ★ ★1/2