I read Hysterical Love at one go, sitting on a park bench on a sunny afternoon at the Tuileries Garden in Paris while my daughter toured the Louvre. She came out before I was quite done, so I sent her for ice creams. Toffee, of course. She came back with salt caramel. Close enough.
The StoryDan McDowell, a thirty-three-year-old portrait photographer happily set to marry his beloved Jane, is stunned when a slip of the tongue about an “ex-girlfriend overlap” of years earlier throws their pending marriage into doubt and him onto the street. Or at least into the second bedroom of their next-door neighbor, Bob, where Dan is sure it won’t be long. It’s long. His sister, Lucy, further confuses matters with her “soul mate theory” and its suggestion that Jane might not be his… soul mate, that is. But the tipping point comes when his father is struck ill, sparking a chain of events in which Dan discovers a story written by this man he doesn’t readily understand, but who, it seems, has long harbored an unrequited love from decades earlier. Incapable of fixing his own romantic dilemma, Dan becomes fixated on finding this woman of his father’s dreams and sets off for Oakland, California, on a mission fraught with detours and semi-hilarious peril. Along the way he meets the beautiful Fiona, herbalist and flower child, who assists in his quest while quietly and erotically shaking up his world. When, against all odds, he finds the elusive woman from the past, the ultimate discovery of how she truly fit into his father’s life leaves him staggered, as does the reality of what’s been stirred up with Fiona. But it’s when he returns home to yet another set of unexpected truths that he’s shaken to the core, ultimately forced to face who he is and just whom he might be able to love. Lorraine Devon Wilke, author of the acclaimed debut novel, After The Sucker Punch, brings her deft mix of humor and drama to a whip-smart narrative told from the point of view of its male protagonist. Hysterical Love explores themes of family, commitment, balancing creativity, facing adulthood, and digging deep to understand the beating heart of true love.
- Book Title: Hysterical Love
- Author: Lorraine Devon Wilke
- Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Length: 282 pages
Release Date: April 7, 2015
Purchase Links: Amazon UK| Amazon US
My Review: 5 out of 5 stars for Hysterical Love by Lorraine Devon Wilke
I like relationship books and movies. Always have. When I was twelve, it was Georgette Heyer’s These Old Shades. I moved on to Shakespeare, Love Story, Jane Austen. It was all good in a boy-meets-girl-falls-in-love-and-they-either-die-or-HEA kind of way. Then I hit University as an English major and my advisor slotted me into the D.H. Lawrence seminar. On the first day, the professor told us Lawrence was important because his books – especially Lady Chatterley’s Lover – pierced the artificial barriers that intellectuals use to obscure the true nature of relationships and ushered in a brave new reality. All righty then. I tore into Lady C. And came up… empty. This was the great voice for women’s sexual freedom? Someone who couldn’t even figure out what a clitorus is for and says women use their ‘little beak’ to “tear, tear, tear, as if she had no sensation in her except in the top of her beak, the very outside top tip, that rubbed and tore” (Lady Chatterley’s Lover, DH Lawrence, 1928)
Years (and many soothing Austen re-reads) later, I realized two things. First, Lady Chatterley was a man. Or at least, the voice of an insecure, self-centered, immature, misogynistic man who just happened to be one hell of a writer. Second, although most of the relationship stories I read involved men who just couldn’t commit and women who had to come to terms with/wait out/eventually get commitment/live HEA, the men I met in real life were almost all the exact opposite. As the boys I knew grew up to be men, the big-O that concerned them was the one that followed a 3 as their thirtieth birthday approached. The girls around me weren’t focussing on getting their man – women I knew were busy pounding on that glass ceiling. It was their men who were nervously standing on the sidelines holding the ticking biological clocks. They wanted the whole nine yards: wife, kids, house, lawn mower, and labrador retriever named Lucy.
But I never found a writer who was as good as DH Lawrence, but who could also get into a man’s head and tell that story. Until now. In her new release, Hysterical Love, writer Lorraine Devon Wilke introduces Dan McDowell, a thirty-three year old Los Angeles photographer. Dan and his beloved Jane are all set to be grownups. They have the bungalow with the handpainted “Dan and Jane Live Here” door plaque. They live in a neighborhood filled with families, kids, and a daily visit from Tomas and his ice cream truck laden with toffee ice cream bars. They know each other’s likes and dislikes, favorite foods, and families. They have just set the date for their wedding. A chance remark leads to questions about commitment, and the next thing Dan knows, his HEA has blown up in his face. She gets the house, he gets custody of their gay best friend Bob. The plaque disappears.
As I read this, I was increasingly uncomfortable. You see, I read relationship stories. A lot of relationship stories. And I realized that Wilke was writing Dan as the girl role, the one ready to be in love, get married, and have the whole package. Jane was the boy, the one with commitment issues. Wait, I thought. That can’t be right. But… it felt right. I started to think about the men I know, including the one I married. As they approached their thirties, they (most of them anyway) jettisoned their inner Peter Pan and wanted to be grownups. (Some of them reclaimed Peter Pan down the road, but that’s a completely different genre.) Once I mentally adjusted to seeing Dan through my real life counterparts, I realized that Wilke is a kind of genius. Or a damn good writer doing a better job of getting into the head of the opposite sex than DH Lawrence anyway.
After that, she had me. When his father Jim is hospitalized, Dan’s complicated, competitive, and ultimately loving relationship with his father sends him on a ‘vision quest’, the heart of which is an investigation of what it means to be a soul mate. His spiritual journey (to Oakland) leads to truths about his parents’ relationship, the meaning of soul mates, and the importance of pie.
Wilke combines humor, terrific writing, and some none-too-gently acquired truths into a different kind of relationship story. It might just be because I also grew up in California, but I felt like I knew these people. I had the same parents. (Okay, maybe my mother wasn’t quite so angelic as Dan perceived his mother Esther to be. I don’t think Esther was either.) But my father certainly would have said any of the lines that Dan’s father, Big Jim McDowell, pronounced.
Goddammit, what is it with you kids? You make everything so damn convoluted! This theory, that theory—you want a theory? You’re dealt a hand and you play it. End of story.
(I kind of love Big Jim.)
The pace is perfect. Or maybe it’s just that I couldn’t put the book down. But Hysterical Love was actually the perfect vacation read. At 282 pages it was the ideal length, Wilke’s feel for dialogue was funny and dead-on, the inside of Dan’s head was a slightly clueless but good place to be, and (warning: if you read this book, you WILL want ice-cream) there were plenty of ice cream vendors all around me. So five stars to Lorraine Devon Wilke for Hysterical Love. I can’t wait to go back and read her earlier novel, After the Sucker Punch, or to see what comes next.
*I received this book for free from the publisher or author in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.*
Lorraine Devon Wilke – writer, photographer, singer and songwriter – started early as a creative hyphenate. First, there was music and theater, next came rock & roll, then a leap into film when a feature she co-wrote (To Cross the Rubicon) was produced by a Seattle film company, opening doors in a variety of creative directions.
In the years following, she wrote for and performed on theater stages, developed her photography skills, and accrued a library of well-received feature screenplays; The Theory of Almost Everything was a top finalist in the 2012 Final Draft Big Break Screenwriting Contest and, most recently, A Minor Rebellion was a 2014 quarter-finalist in that same competition. She kept her hand in music throughout—songwriting, recording, performing—leading to the fruition of the longtime goal of recording an original album (Somewhere On the Way). Accomplished in collaboration with songwriting/producing partner, Rick M. Hirsch, the album garnered stellar reviews and can be found at CDBaby and iTunes. She continues with music whenever she can (which, she maintains, is never, ever, enough!); a collection of her recorded material is available at SoundCloud.
Devon Wilke’s current life is split between Playa del Rey and Ferndale, California, and is shared with her husband, Pete Wilke, an entertainment and securities attorney, and son, engineer and web designer Dillon Wilke. She curates and manages both her fine art photography site and personal blog (Rock+Paper+Music), is a regular contributor at The Huffington Post, and writes a monthly column for the award-winning northern California newspaper, The Ferndale Enterprise. She invites you to access an archive of her essays and journalistic pieces @ Contently.
In her latest adventure, both her debut novel, After The Sucker Punch, and her short story, “She Tumbled Down,” were 2014 publishing successes, with 2015 seeing the launch of her new novel, Hysterical Love. You can follow her “adventures in independent publishing” at her blog AfterTheSuckerPunch.com.
Contact Links for Lorraine Devon Wilke