Ambriz’s novel follows one man’s deliberation about whether all can truly be fair in love and war.
Carlo, 34, is a self-proclaimed libertine navigating the dating scene in 1980s Los Angeles. His primary lovers include Vanista, a 42-year-old professional dancer with seductive power; Suzanne, 28, an intellectual beauty who craves stability and the finer things; and Samantha, 24, a fun-loving waitress who wants to play the field. The story consists of Carlo’s constant vacillation about which of his three lovers to keep seeing and his negotiations with those who want a monogamous relationship. There are a few other, minor plot points, including Vanista’s half-baked plans to knock out her competition; appearances by her jealous boyfriend, Eric; and Carlo’s vacations to Costa Rica and Las Vegas. There are also a couple of chapters set in 2014, in which Carlo’s daughter Bryanna, 21, provides her perspective on modern issues, particularly sexual assault on college campuses, and these sections provide welcome changes of pace. The bulk of the novel, however, consists of repetitive philosophical discussion in which Carlo muses on the meaning of being a libertine and on prioritizing personal fulfillment over adherence to societal norms. He offers his views on gender dynamics and debates the importance of trust, honesty, and learning how to cope with pain. There are also some progressive, feminist messages about gender equality and eliminating the sexual double standard. However, Carlo’s condemnation of women who don’t behave in ways that he finds acceptable, and his assertion that men’s logic is superior to women’s emotion, may not land well with all readers. Neither may the novel’s excessive length, due in part to overwritten passages. When Carlo meets Samantha at a nightclub, for instance, he notes that “her shoes and purse stylishly coordinated with her dress, providing a debonair air of attractiveness that also gave a sophisticated sexy appearance.” It also becomes hard to believe that Vanista and Suzanne, in particular, would stick around for so long, as they both want an exclusive commitment that Carlo is unwilling to give.
A meandering Don Juan tale.