by E.E. Ottoman
Publisher: EE Ottoman
Publication Date: April 16, 2021
Source: the author
I received an advance review copy of this book from the author. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.My rating:
New York, 1949
After years of trying to break into New York City's literary scene, Madeline Slaughter is emotionally and physically exhausted. When a friend offers her a safe haven as the live-in companion to reclusive, bestselling novelist Victor Hallowell she jumps at the chance to escape the city.
Madeline expects to find rest and quiet in the forests of Upstate New York. Instead, she finds Victor, handsome and intensely passionate, and Audrey Coffin, Victor's mysterious and beautiful neighbor.
When Victor offers her a kiss and the promise of more Madeline allows herself to become entangled even as Audrey is also claiming her heart. The only problem is that Audrey and Victor are ex-lovers with plenty of baggage between them. As Madeline finds herself opening up and falling in love with both she starts to wonder, can there be a future for all three?
This book is the equivalent of drinking a hot cup of tea while sitting on a screened-in porch full of plants: it’s as cozy, gentle and relaxing as the cover suggests.
Demoralized by the publishing industry in late 1940s New York City, Madeline accepts an invitation to be a companion for Victor in upstate New York. He’s a mystery writer who inherited a large house and enough money where he never has to leave it: he gets his groceries and newspaper delivered. But spending all day writing is lonely work, so Madeline, a frustrated writer herself, is supposed to (hopefully) be his friend. Victor is sweet, if a bit reclusive, and Madeline finds herself at loose ends. Wandering in the woods, she meets Audrey, the owner of the neighboring farm, who she’s deeply attracted to, though in a different way than she feels with Victor. Audrey and Victor have history, though, and it’s up to Madeline to figure out if she can have it all, or nothing.
“He held out his hand to her and she stared at it for a beat before letting her own settle into his. His fingers curled around her longer ones, his grip warm and strong.
“We look after each other.” He said.
She so desperately wanted to live in a world where that was true.”
The story is told solely from Madeline’s POV. Initially, she’s overwhelmed by the house and Victor’s kindness. Without set duties – besides her commitment to cook meals – she’s finally given the space to explore her writing, and with Audrey’s help, without the constraints of what’s publishable and will sell. It takes time for her to accept that she’s in a safe space, that she doesn’t have to hide or degrade herself to fit in. Madeline, herself a transgender woman, develops relationships with both Audrey, who’s also a transgender woman, and Victor, who’s a transgender man. I liked that Madeline understood that clear communication would be needed if she wanted to make her relationships with Audrey and Victor work out, and that she had the courage to state what she needed to feel comfortable and happy – and then make the others do so as well.
The book is cozy in a very homey way. There’s lots of food, some of which sounds more appetizing (bread and butter sandwiches with tomato soup) than others (liver sandwiches). Madeline helps Audrey harvest produce from her farm and preserve it, including some truly delicious-sounding pears. The setting itself is very small: the book takes place at Victor’s house, Audrey’s farm, and the woods around them. But it’s big enough for the three of them, and most importantly they’re safe. This doesn’t negate their previous experiences in the outside world, nor does it stop Victor and Audrey from warning Madeline against going into the nearest town, but their spot in the woods is a safe space for all of them, and with Madeline’s help, a happy place. But even there, the world intrudes. At one point, Victor struggles with his publisher wanting him to use a female pen-name for his latest work, a horror story, to differentiate it from his mysteries and because the main character is female. The others are sympathetic, though, and help find a compromise.
Overall, this was a relaxing way to spend an afternoon. Recommended for anyone looking for a queer historical hug of a book.