Returning home for a holiday, a young woman faces stirring parallels between her difficulties with her polyamorous girlfriend and memories of growing up with her liberal Episcopalian priest mother.
In this debut novella, Sarah seems the stereotypical Stanford graduate student, a hippie from the Midwest who’s turned her issues with her mother, Alex, into the study of psychology. Reluctantly traveling to Iowa from California for Easter, she is dropped back into thorny family dynamics. The demands on her mother’s time as leader of her flock and caretaker of the community leave Sarah at best resentful of not having all of her affection and, at worst, becoming a project, another problem in the priest’s congregation to be addressed. Compounding matters is the other Alex now in Sarah’s circle, a vibrant punk-rock pillar of gender-queerness, whose commitment to polyamory has left the psych student with one more woman in her life whose love she must share. When her girlfriend surprises her by joining her for the break, Sarah’s wish to avoid introducing the two Alexes who cause her startlingly similar complications means the reopening of old wounds as well as solutions that won’t necessarily close them. The strength of Kaye’s novella—and in one instance, its weakness—is its thrift. Sarah’s first-person narration employs a self-aware but welcoming style, utilizing natural digressions to fill in the gaps of her childhood and her burgeoning relationship with her new girlfriend. These asides are never tedious; they are the ideal detours that never overstay their welcome. Their lone failing is in adequately fleshing out Sarah’s love interest—she is charismatic and cool but as rich and heartbreaking as her back story of being ejected by her Seventh-day Adventist family. Unfortunately, readers find out too little about the polyamorous life Alex leads that troubles Sarah. But the dialogue is well-tuned; even when Sarah’s psych student insights seem a little too analytical, this awkwardness fits. The Rev. Alex is a resonant character, the liberal yet devout priest giving so much to her community that many readers will come away wanting further stories about her.
Heart-wrenching, heartwarming, charming, but most of all fun—a meeting of the most complex of relationships, plagued by the same aches.