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A hunger to embrace a love less ordinary

Vancouver novelist Zoey Leigh Peterson shines a softer light on polyamory in her new book Next Year, for Sure.

"Sex is not always the driver...they’re lonely, they want stimulation and a sense of belonging," Zoey Leigh Peterson says of the subjects of Next Year, for Sure.

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"Sex is not always the driver...they’re lonely, they want stimulation and a sense of belonging," Zoey Leigh Peterson says of the subjects of Next Year, for Sure.

Kathryn and Chris love each other deeply. They’ve been inseparable for nine years; they’re the kind of couple where, if they were celebrities, they’d have a portmanteau nickname like Katris or Chrisryn. And yet, Chris can’t stop thinking about Emily, a woman he met at the laundromat.

It’s not a “heart crush” or a “boner crush,” but an emotion he feels on a molecular level, like “his DNA had been re-sequenced.”

If their story was a Hollywood plot, the situation would turn into a messy love triangle or sordid affair. But that’s not the case for the protagonists in Vancouver author Zoey Leigh Peterson’s debut novel, Next Year, for Sure.

Here, Kathryn gives Chris permission to explore his feelings for the other woman, and even becomes enmeshed in Emily’s life herself. The novel follows the characters over a year, alternating between Kathryn and Chris’s perspectives and their evolving relationship and inner emotions, as they change from being a socially isolated couple to participants in Emily’s larger free-spirited community.

“It’s good for there to be some non-traditional romance to throw people a curveball,” says Peterson. “There seems to be this one way to experience love, but that’s not the way I experience it. I don’t just mean monogamy. I mean the way love is packaged in romantic comedies and the candy aisle this time of year, and how it’s sold to you.”

Before writing Next Year, for Sure, Peterson had assumed there were more stories out in the world about polyamory (consensual non-monogamous relationships), but couldn’t find what she was looking for, and so she wrote her own.

She was driven by her observation that in popular media and in many novels, there is a lingering preoccupation with characters behaving recklessly toward their loved ones, like The Sopranos’ Tony Soprano. Peterson wanted to write something different, and also challenge the idea that one party will always suffer in an open relationship.

“There are all these characters out there who just grab what they want and hurt other people in the process,” she says.

“But what I see in my real life and my circle of friends are people who care very deeply for their loved ones and are trying to make their loved ones happy, and are trying to care for their feelings, but they’re also human beings who have needs.”

As Kathryn and Chris spend more and more time at Emily’s house with her roommates, it becomes tougher to explain this new lifestyle to many of their friends and family. Chris’s mother thinks he’s a cruel philanderer. The situation causes irreparable damage with Kathryn’s friend Sharon, who treats her alternatingly like a victim or a lunatic for allowing Chris to be with Emily. Peterson says there are those on the outside who will react strongly to other’s personal relationship decisions, as caring turns to judgment.

“It often takes the form of policing,” she says. “I’m going to rein you in for your own good. And that’s not okay”

Another cliché about polyamory is that it’s driven by sex. But in Next Year, for Sure, sex doesn’t even enter Chris and Emily’s world until much later in their story, almost as an afterthought. Peterson purposely didn’t want the book to be focused on the physical part of their relationship.

“Sex is not always the driver,” she says. “With Kathryn and Chris in particular, it’s not what drives them to make this choice. It’s incidental. I think emotional intimacy is what really connects them.

“They’re lonely — they want the stimulation and connection and the sense of belonging you get from being in an intimate relationship. That’s what they really crave.”

Sue Carter is the editor at Quill & Quire magazine.

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