The cover of this book jumped out at me when I was browsing NetGalley one afternoon earlier this summer. Something about the bubblegum pink background mixed with that kinda butch black model caught my eye and made me read the blurb. When I saw that it took place in New Orleans and dealt with alcoholism, I mashed that request button wicked hard. I’ve been meaning to try more lesbian romance, and this one seemed to check all my boxes, leaving me more excited to read a book than I had been in months.
Let the Lover Be is told in third person, but almost exclusively from the point of view of one character: Kiana Lewis, an underemployed graphic designer from Chicago dealing poorly with the breakup of her most recent relationship. The blurb calls her a “functional alcoholic” and the book gets right down to showing that when it opens with Kiana passing out on the late-night Blue Line and riding it end to end before calling her sister and accepting her rescue. Then, despite promising her sister she’d go “talk to someone” with her the next day, she impulsively books a same-day flight to New Orleans to attempt to break up her ex-girlfriend’s wedding. Upon her arrival in the Big Easy she creates a scene with her ex, gets falling-down drunk in the French Quarter, passes out on a stranger then wakes up in someone’s apartment with no memory of the night before. Kiana doesn’t just like to party or to drink, she’s an honest-to-god alcoholic, and she’s teetering on the edge of losing the last of what little control she has.
I’m not sure that the book is actually a romance. There’s a romance plotline in it, between Kiana and the woman she passed out on, but things between her and Genevieve are left entirely open ended at the conclusion. This is a story about Kiana’s struggle with alcohol. The romance plays a role in her transformation, but Genevieve is essentially a secondary character. She’s a recovering alcoholic who shows Kiana how things could be different for her, but she doesn’t rescue her with her love and endless patience. Kiana has to fall hard enough to decide for herself that she needs and wants to change. View Spoiler »And oh my god does she hit rock bottom. She gets stinking drunk, pulling Genevieve off the wagon to join her, then has hate sex with her in a booze-soaked bed before passing out. She wakes up alone, then throws up all over herself in a page and a half long scene that ends with her passed out naked on the bathroom floor in her own vomit. The hotel maid finds her like this and throws her in a tub before cleaning the room and running away blessing herself. Hot. Mess. « Hide Spoiler
Even though I didn’t get the romance novel I expected, I still really enjoyed the book. It’s a debut novel, and the prose veered into info dump and plain telling a few times, but for the most part it was an emotionally engaging story with a rich cast of characters and an optimistic ending. I winced a bit when the bisexual ex-girlfriend turned out to be bitchy and manipulative, but she was complicated enough to avoid feeling like a stock villain. I wanted to slap her, but she felt like a real human with messy emotions. In fact, at one point in the book I felt I saw why Kiana had liked her so much. Kiana’s sister was another great character. She was present in the book mostly via phone conversations, but Greer uses Kiana’s mental images of her sister’s mannerisms to make her pop as a major character. You can see her struggle to balance her love and desire to save Kiana from herself with her frustration and exhaustion at the lies and self-inflicted crises. It was Kiana’s story, but everyone in it had a life of their own.
Final Assessment: If you’re not averse to an ending that’s optimistic but not a HFN/HEA, I’d recommend this category-length novel to anyone looking for an emotional story of a woman saving herself with the help of a good woman. B