Friday, January 16, 2015

Love Ruins Everything by Karen X. Tulchinsky

You know it's a Toronto novel if there's queer people or Jewish families, and this novel has both. Set in the early to mid 1990s and revolving around the AIDS crisis, it covers a lot of the territory of The Toronto You Are Leaving, but with more lesbian viewpoints (always welcome!). 

I kind of hated the book at first. The beginning chapters of the novel deal with our protagonist, Nomi, having her heart broken and moving out of her girlfriend's San Francisco apartment to crash on her best friend's couch and do pretty much nothing. It is angsty queer lit to the extreme. Luckily, the plot picks up when Nomi's mother's second wedding brings her (Nomi) back to her hometown of Toronto.

In Toronto, Nomi reconnects with her hilarious Jewish family, and runs into an old crush who wants to get something started. She also meets up with her cousin Henry - the family's other queer - who has just been gay bashed.

Halfway through the book we switch to Henry's perspective, which is much more interesting (although neither character is particularly developed). Henry has connected with an American queer scholar who has a radical theory about the origin of AIDS, and together they are trying to get the press to pick it up before they both get killed. 

I am reluctant to take a side on this book. I liked the Henry chapters, and that storyline was pretty interesting and face-paced. On the other hand, a lot of Nomi's story was maudlin and irritating. The sex scenes were embarrassingly over the top (is it possible to write a good sex scene?). But then again, I liked the Toronto colour, and I liked Nomi and Henry's extended family and their shenanigans. 

The larger theme of love's disruptive place in one's life is not fully explored, which is too bad. It kind of gets shunted aside by the government conspiracy angle - which also doesn't get its due. It's sort of like there's actually two different books here, or at least the two storylines needed to be more deftly woven together. Just when things started to turn around for Nomi, we lose track of her to follow Henry's story.

The ending felt rushed and not everything was resolved. But the story was interesting, and I think it could be a good first step for folks looking to get into queer fiction. I will give it an ambivalent three CN Towers out of five.

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