It’s been a while since a book blogger has taken the time to read this book of mine, my second novel and a book I loved writing, so it was a true pleasure to find this post today from Lisl Zlitni of before the second sleep book blog.
I always appreciate when someone not only enjoys my work, but discovers and appreciates the bigger themes and subtler tones, the nuances and humor, the characters and story twists, and puts her perspective into thoughtful words. I hope those of you who haven’t yet grab a copy, but mostly I want to thank writer, Lisl Zlitni, for giving my work her time and thoughtfulness. Following is her review:
Hysterical Love by Lorraine Devon Wilke
A B.R.A.G. Medallion Honoree
When I first picked up Lorraine Devon Wilke’s Hysterical Love, it was with anticipation, a muted sort of joy, not unlike that of a child anticipating a delicious treat or new toy. I had previously read and thoroughly enjoyed Devon Wilke’s debut novel After the Sucker Punch and was very ready to dive into this one.
Dan McDowell opens the novel, telling his readers he is “flummoxed” by relationships—not that this is so odd, but he was sure by now, at age 33, he’d be a bit past that phase. His bewildered recounting of what had just happened to him gave not only a promising opening to what looked to be a great yarn, but was also, well, so on target. It read, as I delivered the opening paragraphs aloud—reading aloud being a frequent habit—in a very male manner. It sounded like a man would say this, as opposed to the way a female author might write what she wants a male character to be expressing.
In this case, Dan is still a little confused as to how he ends up camped out in his neighbor’s spare bedroom, when just an hour or so before he and his longtime girlfriend had been setting a wedding date and Jane became Dan’s fiancée, at least for that hour. The long and the short is this: Jane muses aloud on the passage of time, she can’t believe it’s been three years of exclusivity, and…a split-second eye avert on Dan’s part and it’s all over. “I am the only person you’ve been with since we met, right?”
Something else about that male thing: Devon Wilke has got it down. Having read her before, I knew she was adept at writing a protagonist who is fast on her feet, articulate and can be sharp—the unifying trait being she wraps all points together and responds in full and succinctly. But that is a female character. How would the skills of her creator be utilized to mold a male type who didn’t merely change costumes for a different book?
The answers came as I continued to read—and laugh. As Dan relates his tale to us, his speech reveals who he is: “[S]omehow, despite amazingly good behavior on everyone’s parts, and often against the nature of all parties involved, someone in the room pulls the pin.” Like Tess’s, his remarks are witty, but closer to the nature of male metaphorical speech and the types of symbolism men tend to engage.
As Dan continues his narrative, his own commentary within the script, his hindsight enables him to recognize what he’s done wrong, and trigger phrases that just don’t go down well with the opposite sex: “Technically,” “What’s the big deal?” and a hilarious transition phrase that cues us into the impending shit storm: “The temperature drop is like the girl’s room in The Exorcist.”
As it turns out, Dan had been with his previous girlfriend after he’d met (and slept with) Jane, his defense being that he and Jane hadn’t verbally or officially committed to an exclusive relationship. From Jane’s point of view, just having slept together constitutes the commitment, and she isn’t having any of his excuses.
At this point I was no longer the least bit curious about a female author writing from a first-person male protagonist perspective. It was Dan speaking.
Not long after, Dan’s sister Lucy and he have a series of conversations pertaining to their father, who has recently fallen ill, and the concept of whether Jane truly is Dan’s “soul mate.” Lucy reveals the existence of a short story their father had written before their parents’ marriage, about a woman he’d had an impassioned affair with, a revelation startling Dan enough to spark questions such as, “Do you suppose there’s a genetic component to being crappy with relationships?”
The sarcastic question is two-pronged. The father he knows is impatient, unsentimental and underwhelmed with just about everything, “all of which combine to make his previous self impossible to reconcile with who he is now.”
But Dan also, following Lucy’s train of thought within her ongoing advice to him, begins to contemplate the idea that this woman, “Barbara from Oakland,” might really have been the one his father was meant for. Could that explain the deterioration of his father’s previous creativity and passion, and poor relationship with the family he does have? Moreover, what might this bode for Dan and Jane? Was their disastrous argument meant to steer Dan to his true soul mate? In order to seek answers, Dan concludes he must find Barbara. In so doing, he befriends Fiona, a waitress and herbal pharmacist who soon becomes partner in his “vision quest.”
Through this Dan continues to have contact with his daily life, such as phone conversations with his sister who is, unsurprisingly, angry with his disappearing act. The heated conversations are slightly reminiscent of those between After the Sucker Punch’s Tess and her own sister, and though Dan answers back in self-defense, he carries a greater restraint; he holds back more often, perhaps having quickly absorbed a lesson learned from his unthought out answers during the engagement-ending skirmish with Jane. In his subsequent reflections he assesses himself in a straight forward, honest manner. His commentary is pithy and on-target, and he doesn’t discount what others say to or about him. In Dan McDowell, Devon Wilke has created a character eager to grow and learn, but one nevertheless subject to the shifting of mood or whim. He is well balanced, but as in need of growth as any of the rest of us.
Devon Wilke is also an astute observer of human behavior, and there were frequent bouts of laughter on my part or murmured “Mmm hmm” upon recognition of the comically familiar….
Visit www.lorrainedevonwilke.com for details and links to LDW’s books, music, photography, and articles.