Offered the opportunity to review “Andy’s Song”, I suggested we also consider its prequel “Man Enough”, Beth Burnett’s initially self published Rainbow Award winner of 2012. Remarkable in the almost exclusively positive reviews it has garnered, “Man Enough” tackles some significant issues and handles them with sensitive dexterity and appropriate humour.
From the Amazon blurb:
Things are going well for Davey Carter. She loves her job and she has a comfortable bed. Granted, her love life is non-existent, her pot-smoking mother is wreaking havoc in her apartment, and she is starting to suspect that her lesbian best friend might be secretly in love with her. But none of that matters when Davey meets Danny, a kind, loving, intelligent man who just may be the love of Davey’s life. Until it turns out that Danny is harboring a secret of his own.
We are introduced to Davey Carter through the first person perspective Beth employs, letting us sympathize as she endures an abominable blind date with a pill of a guy. Davey is a 40 year old feminist who typically views the world optimistically. Babbling when nervous, she loves SciFi, vegetarianism and working at the “Care Center” – specifically assisting LGBTQ youth.
Davey is surrounded by a cast of family and friends who love and support her. Her unpredictable “serial dater” mother Leah; Lynn and her wife Sarah busy negotiating their troubled marriage; Stevie who loves to stir trouble and her best friend Andy, the self-described dyke who fervently protects Davey. The interweaving of their lives, the cross-pollination of problems, ideas and influences are beautifully described by Beth in this, her debut novel.
As her date implodes, Davey shares with us the vision of an “angel” – a sympathetic fellow customer who is clearly eavesdropping on the astoundingly disappointing revelations Davey is exposed to. FIve years younger, Danny is an author who knows what he wants and needs, and is politely determined to achieve both. His initial invitation to remediate her dinner is appropriately and gently denied by our heroine. Her story draws us into the adventures she experiences as Lynn moves in, soon followed by Leah. Under siege, Davey attempts to navigate this new relationship under the close and often fondly invasive interference of her loved ones. Reactions to Danny are for the most part positive, but Andy has significant reservations and expresses them honestly and persistently. She might have cause for concern.
Beth raises our awareness or encourages us to consider a number of issues in her story. Social bullying; identity; love and commitment are among some of the challenges that face her characters and which we too ponder as we enjoy a humour filled, rolicking adventure toward love. We think on love found with friends, family and romance and what the distinctions are between them. Personal identity and how societal definitions impact our relationships are also considered. How can we support those subjected to bullying and what are our responsibilities to youth questioning their identities? How permeable should our relationships be to outside input and who determines their parameters? Body image and bigotry within the LGBTQ community; sacrificial love and family structures are among the myriad of topics encountered in this charming romance.
Throughout this delightful story we hear Beth’s voice – her humour is distinctive and engaging. Her appreciation of SciFi and support for veganism are found in both subtle and overt references throughout this tale. Vonnegut, Heinlein and Edgar Rice Burroughs pepper the story, awaiting the sharp eye of an attentive reader. Blended with humour, these little gems litter the plot and provide entertaining breaks from the heavier topics.
I have only one concern about an aspect of this story: The speed with which the relationship between Davey and Danny develops and their resulting declarations to one another clashes with my more cynical perspective. As it is essentially one of taste, other readers might not be perturbed by this at all, and will find the pace quite fitting for the plot, setting and characters.
Beth succeeded in keeping my notebook populated with the fabulous dialogue, clever quotes I wanted to hold onto because they made me laugh or thoughtful. I hope you will be just as delighted by these when you discover them in your own reading of Man Enough:
“I’m starting to think like a romance novel. I have got to get out of here.” – Davey
“Just don’t expect me to dress like her.” – Davey referencing Burrough’s classic.
“Of course, sincerity is everything. If you can fake that, you’ve got it made.” – Leah
and certainly very appropriate to many of us:
“ . . you can’t live a lie just because you think it will make things easier” – Andy
It is difficult to write a review of Andy’s Song without handicapping it with spoilers. As a result, many references to the plot will be oblique and vague, but hopefully you appreciate that the intent is to maintain the integrity of your reading experience of Beth’s sequel to her award winning Man Enough. Published by Sapphire Books in 2013, this story continues with most of the same characters we were introduced to in the aforementioned novel, but focuses upon the butch and ever so charming Andrea “Andy” Eriksson.
The Amazon blurb introduces it thus:
Is there more to life than sex? Andy Ericksson is trying to find out. She’s had a pretty easy life. She’s sexy, she’s tough, and she has a trust fund that ensures she will never have to work a “normal” job. She has a circle of adoring friends and all of the hot, casual sex she could want. It’s a recipe for a great time. However, lately, Andy has started to feel that something is missing. Casual sex isn’t cutting through the loneliness. Her best friend falls in love with someone else, her ex-girlfriend makes an appearance, and she meets someone who isn’t willing to be a one-night stand. Andy’s world is changing and she’s not sure that she’s changing with it. In the midst of Andy’s turmoil, everyone in her life suddenly seems to be spouting new age wisdom and finding inner peace.
Through the changing of one relationship and the beginning of another, Andy struggles to open her heart without sacrificing her freedom or alienating those she loves the most.
Beth’s humour is again evident in her introduction of this story: Andy is having the “best date ever” – a wonderful contrast to the beginning of the story just reviewed. Andy’s Song picks up from Man Enough, but the latter need not be read to enjoy this romance. Beth uses flashbacks to provide us with sufficient back story to catch up with the characters previously introduced. We are able to view some favourite characters from Andy’s perspective and appreciate Davey without her self-depreciation. Leah reminds us and Andy that Davey does not reciprocate Andy’s love and gently suggests that their relationship is changing.
Change is certainly a facet of Andy’s experiences throughout this love story. As she adjusts to the decisions Davey has made, Andy re-examines her own life, considers others’ and accommodates new relationships. She has a different perspective on romance, believing it to be a decision based on mutual interests, sexual attraction and a definitive commitment to respecting one another. Soul mates do not factor in and ethereal views of romance are not part of her lexicon. Andy meets an old acquaintance, finding Heather to be an entertaining and stimulating partner physically, emotionally and intellectually. Also demanding her attention is the arrival of Maggie, an ex with a distinct perspective on love and relationships. A co-worker, Renee is supportive and a contrasting foil against which Andy can consider her own actions, a trustworthy friend who challenges our heroine to live up to her potential.
This story exposes the characters to assault, medical scares and panic attacks. Through these, Beth has Andy and her friends examine their assumptions, value relationships and grow from the experiences. We are brought alongside Andy as she changes in response, accepts her inner strength and taps into the friendships she is invested in. Respecting and joining them in spiritual and social activities, trying new on new roles and seeing her responses in a new light all help Andy as she learns to adjust to a potential “forward progression” in her romantic life.
I was surprised and temporarily kicked out the second plot when I came across a name change. In Man Enough the epilogue refers to a wedding – mentioning a bride by name. In Andy’s Song the character’s name appears to be different. This might have been addressed in subsequent printings of the story and is no longer a valid criticism, but it threw me off the storyline until I reconciled myself to the altered identity and continued to enjoy the love story.
In both books, the romantic partner is less developed, and we are required to infer their character from interactions with others around them. The focus is on Davey and Andy respectively and how they recognize and adjust to the changes in their lives, discovering themselves and love en route. Both romances progress extremely quickly and music replaces literature as a storytelling prop in this later narrative. In Andy’s Song we have sneak peeks of Beth via the settings (current and prior), references to music and philosophical mindsets – all of which make her story fuller and worth stepping into. Both her main characters are vulnerable, flawed and all the more engaging as they consider challenges many of her readership will recognize. More quotes have joined my collection and I hope to read Renee’s story in the near future. In the meantime, I would happily join Andy over coffee and hope to hear gems such as:
“Why does she have to be labeled? It’s their relationship, let them figure it out.”
“She’s smart and funny and isn’t willing to put up with my usual crap.” and;
“Today, I’m going to try. I’m going to try to treat you the way you want to be treated. I am going to try to be a good girlfriend. I am going to try, and when I mess up, I’m going to try again.”