“What if this woman doesn’t want to get married?” It’s the question that brought debut novelist Eliza Kennedy’s idea for I Take You to life. She wanted to write a book about a woman getting married in Key West, and her story took off when she found the answer to that question: “because she likes to sleep around.”
“And it was at that moment that this voice came into my head,” Kennedy says. Enter Lily Wilder, a force to be reckoned with and a character Kennedy notes is “a person very unlike me who really does exactly what she pleases and says whatever’s on her mind.” A whip-smart New York lawyer, Lily’s biggest weapon is humor. It’s how she deals with the uncomfortable thought that, only a couple days before the wedding, the whole affair might be called off. Her brand of humor works so well because it comes from a place of honesty—almost to a fault. Speaking about her hunky archaeologist fiance, Will, Lily says he has “so many qualities, but just one body! If only he had more bodies.”
Kennedy, a former lawyer herself, delivers a witty, attentive presentation of a woman with an untraditional lifestyle and the reasons why it does—and doesn’t—work for her. It’s not so often that you encounter someone who is both in love and in constant search for her next sexual conquest. Lily’s best friend, Freddy, jokes about her behavior, saying: “I’ve seen Lily check out guys…while driving. Or at the doctor. Or at funerals.” But when faced with a commitment like marriage, Lily is forced to take a hard look at her choices: “Do I want to call this off? Do I want to get caught? Do I love Will?”
“I still think that even in New York, Lily would be something of an outlier,” Kennedy admits. While Lily’s Bloody Mary–fueled escapades around Key West are often laugh-out-loud funny, her lifestyle choices are complicated. “I thought it was my job to raise the questions and present them as fully as I could,” Kennedy says, and she does so by considering more than just Lily’s perspective. Not everyone agrees with her: “Does [Will] know about your…your various interests?” asks Lily’s concerned mother. That’s putting the situation delicately, though, and she’s often met with greater criticism. In one very sober moment, Lily says to an old friend: “You couldn’t possibly judge me as harshly as I judge myself.”
If you look beyond all the vodka-induced hilarity, you’ll find that I Take You asks important questions about society’s expectations of women as well as the future of monogamy. “These are the questions that really interest me, but I certainly don’t know the answers either,” Kennedy says. “I think I had been shying away from being too serious because I had this idea of the book I wanted to write. But then I realized I was missing an opportunity.”
As the story progresses, this free-spirited book and its uninhibited heroine show their layers. The Lily who describes her fiance as “kind of like being engaged to an audiobook” at the beginning of her story is using her candor with new purpose by the end: “We’re not necessarily seeking power, or procreation, or relationship security, or career advancement. Sometimes, we just want sex.”
Though Kennedy had reservations about having the book take a serious turn, she was careful not to let it “descend into a huge polemic.” As to her personal views, “I was able to separate myself from the book,” she says. “I really feel like the way that [Lily] behaves was driven by her voice…it just comes naturally from who she is, rather than me trying to take something that I’ve seen in the real world.”
She also had a great first reader in her husband, Man Booker Prize–nominated author Joshua Ferris. “It was wonderful to have…one person I could show [the book] to,” Kennedy says. She admits that “it was a little weird to…step in and say ‘Hey, I can be a writer, too!’ ” after leaving her career as a litigation lawyer, but they’ve worked out a system in which “we each go off on our own and decide what we’re going to do and then go to the other for criticism and critique.”
The driving force behind this debut is a simple one: “I really just had the desire to write a book that was purely fun and fun to read,” Kennedy says. “It was really fun to have [Lily] in my head.” Without a doubt, spending a day with I Take You will have you itching to let loose. So, go order a martini, have a second on standby (especially if the bartender is cute), and get to know Lily Wilder.
Chelsea Langford is the assistant editor at Kirkus Reviews.