WHAT LOVE IS by Carrie Jenkins


And What It Could Be
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In her first book, Jenkins (Philosophy/Univ. of British Columbia, Vancouver) examines romantic love as a phenomenon at the intersection of biology and social convention.

Midway through the first page, the author tosses in an aside that hints at her unique perspective on the subject. “On the mornings when I walk from my boyfriend’s apartment to the house I share with my husband,” she writes, “I sometimes find myself reflecting on the disconnects between my own experience with romantic love and the way romantic love is normally understood in the time and place in which I live.” To a certain extent, the book is a defense of polyamory, which Jenkins views as the next social frontier now that romantic love between same-sex couples has become more socially acceptable. Taking a historical perspective, the author explores the battle between those who believe that biology is the fundamental force determining the experience of romantic love and those who think that the experience is shaped by social forces. Unfortunately, this is such an abstract discussion that just what experience she is referencing is unclear. Though Jenkins often achieves a conversational tone, she also has a fondness for academic language; words like “amatonormativity” (“the idea that romantic love is ideal and a default for everyone”) pepper the volume and make it less than fully accessibly for general readers. The author’s cheerful exhortation to “choose your own adventure” may inspire some readers, but she has taken on such a broad, and familiar, subject that it’s hard to find much new in her analysis. Perhaps if she had confined herself more narrowly and specifically to her own experience, she could have arrived at more significant insights.

Those who don’t already have a good idea what love is before beginning the volume won’t have gained one by its conclusion.

Pub Date: Jan. 24th, 2017
ISBN: 978-0-465-09885-9
Page count: 224pp
Publisher: Basic
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15th, 2016


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