September 21, 2017

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Peterson's polyamorous protagonists pleasing

This debut novel finds a way to break hearts and warm them at the same time.

Author Zoey Leigh Peterson was born in England and grew up all over the United States before settling in Canada. She honed her skills in storytelling through her short fiction, which has been published widely, including in The Walrus and Best Canadian Stories.

Next Year, For Sure explores modern love and friendships, along with themes of independence, family, self-identity and meeting other people’s expectations.

The story provides a sensitive insight into polyamory — the practice of having more than one intimate relationship at the same time, with the knowledge and consent of other partners.

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This debut novel finds a way to break hearts and warm them at the same time.

Author Zoey Leigh Peterson was born in England and grew up all over the United States before settling in Canada. She honed her skills in storytelling through her short fiction, which has been published widely, including in The Walrus and Best Canadian Stories.

Next Year, For Sure explores modern love and friendships, along with themes of independence, family, self-identity and meeting other people’s expectations.

The story provides a sensitive insight into polyamory — the practice of having more than one intimate relationship at the same time, with the knowledge and consent of other partners.

Peterson doesn’t judge her characters or try to promote their way of life. Instead, she presents a story about adults making their own choices, and lets readers draw their own conclusions.

The novel opens in present-day Vancouver, introducing readers to Chris and Kathryn, both somewhere in their early 30s — one of those happy couples people love to hate.

After nine years together, Chris and Kathryn read each other’s minds, finish each other’s sentences, support each other without question and share everything with each other.

Peterson does slightly overdo their perfect relationship, even describing how Chris tucks Kathryn into their bed every night.

Chris and Kathryn are faithful to each other, but feel comfortable enough to confide when they develop crushes on others — even defining them as "heart" or "boner" crushes.

So when Chris tells Kathryn how attracted he’s become attracted to Emily, a free-spirited young woman he’s met at the laundromat, Kathryn insists he take Emily on a date, believing their relationship is strong enough to survive this momentary infatuation: "(Kathryn) wants him to be happy. What is her worst case scenario?"

Reluctant at first, Chris gives in, believing his attraction is temporary and will go away with exposure to Emily. But it doesn’t.

"All week, Chris has been telling himself that once he gets to know Emily, as she becomes more defined and specified and real, he will be able to think about her reasonably, without chest pain," Peterson writes. "What if the opposite is happening?" He begins to panic on their first solo date.

As Chris and Kathryn find themselves both falling for Emily and wading into the unfamiliar world of polyamory, they also begin confronting painful truths about their pasts and what they thought they knew about love.

Peterson narrates in the third person, but switches point of view between Kathryn and Chris, allowing the reader in on both of their perspectives. Her simple, elegant prose will remind readers of earlier works by Canadian icon Margaret Atwood.

She gently teases out character development as the novel progresses. All three characters are likable, sympathetic and complex.

Kathryn appears as strong and self-possessed but her confidence hides a deep neediness and scars from a troubled childhood. In contrast, Chris may be loving and loyal, but he’s also incredibly passive and unable to make decisions for himself. Finally, Emily first comes across as empty-headed and directionless, but gradually shows herself as wise and emotionally intelligent.

Peterson tempers the novel with moments of gentle humour, such as when Emily and Kathryn nonchalantly have to explain how they know each other to a police officer.

"She’s dating my boyfriend," Kathryn explains nonchalantly.

Peterson’s story will move readers. Not everyone will agree with how Kathryn, Chris and Emily choose to live, but they’ll want them to be happy as they are.

Kathryne Cardwell is a Winnipeg writer.

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