Review: LOVE STARVED by Kate Fierro

Love Starved by Kate Fierro (April 21, 2015); 304 pages.  Available from Interlude Press here .

I’m coming a little late to the reviewing party, since this book came out almost exactly a year ago, but perhaps it’s good timing, to be writing about this story when the initial flurry of reviews has quieted a bit.

It’s hard to say to which main character in this book the title refers—they both seem a bit “love starved.” Micah is a busy, successful writer and “information security” guy who’s alone because he’s sworn himself into it after a too-long bad relationship and subsequent breakup with a Class A controlling jerk.  He’s given the card of an escort called Angel, whose performance involves romance and attentiveness and things that feel like real dates (and, oh, by the way, really expert sex); in loneliness, Micah calls Angel. The two have some “dates,” or “encounters,” or whatever scare-quoted euphemisms might convey that they go out and they stay in and do kissing things together during which Micah’s head almost twists itself off from how lovely it is to be treated with such kind and caring attention.

But Angel keeps mysteriously cancelling on him, or running out at the smallest chirp of a text message, and everything festers awful when Angel can’t keep up the glossy veneer anymore and his body—quite literally—breaks down in front of Micah.

Angel needs rescuing, and Micah wants to rescue. But things can’t rest easy like that—the days of princesses in towers are over (if they ever were even under), and chivalry didn’t die so much as it got rejected for being rather imbalanced, power-wise. The story would be pretty damn disappointing if Micah were welcomed to swoop in, fix everything, and carry Angel off on his shoulder.

Instead, what happens is a more careful attempt at recognizing someone’s humanity, a negotiation in which both players have a say: not a rescue, but an offered hand-up and the choice to take it or not.  And afterward, there’s a rather messy mess to sort through. This is the loveliness of this story: it seems fully conscious of the path we expect it to take (because all love stories take that path, depending on a rescue and chivalry and the rejection of one form of prostitution for what usually resembles another… and if you can stand the gagging and irritation, you can re-watch Pretty Woman for evidence) and does not take that path.

I’m trying not to say too much about the plot here—except that it’s compelling, a path down which one races to discover what’s at its end.  The reader wants to do this, in part, because, in the best of ways, the story doesn’t fulfill expectations—it takes on the “hooker with a heart of gold” trope, but doesn’t become its servant. What I really want to talk about is how this all ends up, but I’m in a quandary, because doing so requires either that I give away the plot or do some fancy footwork to avoid that and still say what I mean to say.

I’m going to try the footwork, though I’m a pretty terrible dancer and I walk with a cane. Let’s watch me try:

The final chapter of this novel jumps ahead a bit in time, after the plot seems to have resolved itself, and lands in a pretty clichéd place. But then I kept reading, and it turned out not to be the place I thought it was, and I was so relieved, and so happy that it wasn’t that clichéd place the plot hadn’t seemed to earn yet.

(Phoo, getting winded from all this tap-dancing… I’m going to have to sit in a moment.)

What I’m trying to say: there is what seems to be a deliberate disobedience of formula at the end of the story that I just adored. This, from a story that had all the elements to make a Pretty (Wo)Man cliché but chooses, instead, to work at realness (see what I’m getting at here? It’s like the plot itself: fantasy escort dates that become, with effort, real love).  The fantasy of love, as Micah learns, as we learn reading along, is way less satisfying than the flawed, sticky, banged-up and difficult real deal.

The fantasy is tempting, for sure (in this case, it’s promised through a flashy special-effects business card that changes to be what you want as you look at it and comes with a gentlemanly, attractive package wearing a sport coat and carrying roses).  But this story takes, at each turn, the harder path, the more genuine one—it takes off the sport coat, puts down the flowers, and revels in the imperfection of its characters. And that, to bastardize Frost, has made all the difference.

(OK. Now I’m going to fold up my walking cane and take a rest here for a spell, maybe watch some YouTube videos of good dancers.)

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