The Opposite of Love
“Last night, I dreamt that I chopped Andrew up into a hundred little pieces, like a Benihana chef, and ate them, one by one. He tasted like chicken. Afterward, I felt full, but slightly disappointed. I had been craving steak.” As for the opening lines of her debut novel, THE OPPOSITE OF LOVE, Julie Buxbaum doesn’t exactly scrimp on descriptive imagery, nor does she waste time in getting to the point. What she does do is stretch the implication of such words throughout the story, so that by understanding what possesses Emily Haxby, the book’s central character, to be so flippant about her dream (and her boyfriend) at the beginning of the story, we also grasp how far she has to go in order to come to terms with her decision to leave him --- and what she must do to win him back.
At first glance, Emily is a girl who seems like she has her life together: a law degree from Yale Law School, a cushy, high-paying job at a prestigious law firm in New York City, and an adorable boyfriend who is ready to propose. But of course, what would life (or novels, for that matter) be if things were always as they seemed?
Truth be told, Emily --- like many privileged, urban-dwelling almost 30-somethings --- is lost. Her endless days spent slogging through piles of documents as a fifth-year associate while working for a smarmy boss who stares at women’s breasts and makes sexual passes on business trips are unfulfilling and demoralizing. Her relationship with her father, the Lieutenant Governor of Connecticut, is cordial yet stripped of any deep love or honesty --- after her mother died, the two of them slipped into a relationship based on formality and convenience. And Grandpa Jack, the one Emily feels closest to, is slowly deteriorating from the effects of Alzheimer’s --- a disease that often hurts loved ones more than the patient.
So when Emily gets wind of Andrew’s intention to propose, she does what any normal maladjusted woman would do: she breaks up with him. “How do you explain to someone you love that you can’t give yourself to them,” she asks, “because if you did, you’re not sure who you’d be giving? That you aren’t even sure what your own words are worth?” Whether she says this out of fear of commitment or acute self-awareness remains to be seen, and Buxbaum devotes the rest of the book to Emily’s journey toward becoming who she wants --- and deserves --- to be.
Whether from experience or from watching her friends go through similar scenarios, Buxbaum clearly has the inside scoop on what goes on during a pre-midlife midlife crisis. She propels Emily through the motions of scrambling around to “figure herself out” like one who has been there --- the quitting the job on a whim, only to languish for weeks on unemployment; the post-breakup drunken hookup with an old friend that doesn’t quite happen; the countless emails and calls to the ex with alternating messages of “I love you” and “I’m so sorry.” Even though these shenanigans verge on the self-indulgent at times, they are nonetheless an accurate snapshot of what seem to be pressing questions in today’s overextended, highly technological, often times impersonal and lonely world: What is the meaning of love? How do you find it? And most importantly, once you figure out if it’s “right” and worth keeping, how do you make it last?
It is always interesting to read one author’s approach to a well-traveled theme, and Buxbaum delivers nothing less than what she promises under the circumstances. Emily’s epiphanies aren’t earth shattering, and her dramas are far from unique. But still, there’s a certain pleasure in reading about someone who wants what she wants, yet only comprehends what that truly means by taking risks and learning from her mistakes. Those who flock to films like Love, Actually or read books like BRIDGET JONES’S DIARY will especially appreciate the smart, strong-willed, independent heroine who both strikes out on her own to prove her worth and also gets the guy in the end.
Reviewed by Alexis Burling on January 29, 2008
The Opposite of Love
- Publication Date: January 29, 2008
- Genres: Fiction
- Hardcover: 320 pages
- Publisher: The Dial Press
- ISBN-10: 0385341229
- ISBN-13: 9780385341226