Giller Longlist: Next Year, For Sure by Zoey Leigh Peterson

For a book about open relationships, this story is not as steamy as you might think (or at all, really). Instead, Peterson focuses on the psychology of it all. What does this kind of relationship look like, how do the characters feel about it, what are their long-term hopes, and how did they fall into it in the first place?

This was a fast-paced read for me. From the first page I was completely absorbed in the unconventional situation Kathryn and Chris got themselves into, and hoping for the most painless outcome.

It all starts when Chris mentions to Kathryn that he thinks he has a crush on Emily. Well, we all get crushes, right? We just don’t act on them, and they usually fade away. But instead, Kathryn thinks there must be something Chris needs that she’s not able to give him. And if she loves him, shouldn’t she do everything she can to make him happy? So she tells Chris to ask Emily out on a date.

He needs something. Is Kathryn going to be the person to stand in his way?

Love isn’t I love you so much that I need to possess you and control you and be the source of all your happiness. Love is I love you so much that I want you to have everything you need, even when it’s hard for me.

Kathryn’s heart seems to be in the right place, but things don’t go as easily as she thought they would. She feels jealous, but pushes through and urges them on. She even becomes friends with Emily herself.

She isn’t being exactly fair, she knows, snapping at him like this. The date was Kathryn’s idea. And she wasn’t going to be this way. She was going to be cool and evolved, like a Joni Mitchell song. She was going to be magnanimous.

Who is she to sit here with pie in her mouth and say life is miserable? She has everything. She has more than anyone needs. And yet she is jealous? Greedy and grudging and unwilling to share? No, that must stop.

Chris worries about Kathryn when he’s with Emily, and thinks about Emily when he’s with Kathryn. But the more he sees Emily, the more he wants to see her, and the more he leaves Kathryn on her own.

I’ll leave the rest of the story for you to discover, even though it’s tempting to tell you what I think.

This book is exploring the possibilities of open relationships. However, it’s also very much about these characters; their backgrounds, their previous experiences, who they are and how they think. For example, this passage about choosing books in a store seems very much to echo the way Chris has experienced partners over the years. What does it mean for him that he puts them all back on the shelf in the end?

Today, Chris finds pearls in every section. Science. Religion. Biography. Everything looks good today. All subjects seem possible and necessary. He keeps culling the books he is carrying, keeping only the best, replacing the perfect book with an even more perfect book until the stack is a work of art.

And Kathryn comes from an unusual background of growing up in a commune where her mother would expose her to the harsh realities of life in response to Kathryn’s desire for things.

We find out very little about Emily, but she seems too good to be true. She’s open to anything, friendly and affectionate. In fact, the characters in this book, even the secondary characters, all seem so likable and accommodating; willing to share everything at any time… their time, their feelings, their meals, their beds. I feel as though I shouldn’t like everybody so much. Something about it doesn’t feel real. Yet it does at the same time.

What do you think? Is it possible to be in love with more than one person and make it work? Do you think you should be able to get everything you need from just one person? If you’ve read the book, do you think it feels realistic? 

There’s more to this book that I didn’t even touch. Like Kathryn’s friendship with Sharon and Sharon’s reaction to the choices Kathryn makes. This also ties in with another theme of the book – loneliness. In a quote from the author, taken from Casey’s review of this book on her blog Casey the Canadian Lesbrarian, she responds to the question of why she wanted to write about polyamory.

A lot of people ask me why I wanted to write a novel about polyamory. The answer is I didn’t. I wanted to write about loneliness. I wanted to write about the loneliness I saw and felt in even the happiest of couples—couples where you couldn’t imagine a better, more loving, more compatible pairing, and yet there was a shared loneliness. I wanted to write about the loneliness of adulthood, when friends start disappearing into their careers or families. I wanted to write about the loneliness of ending a friendship that has become unhealthy, but then finding yourself bereft and broken in its absence.

Zoey Leigh Peterson writes in a compelling, non-judgmental way. A great book for discussion, and an incredible debut.

Further Reading:

Review at Casey the Canadian Lesbrarian (be careful of spoilers at the end of this review): “How can we be happy? How do we find out what makes us happy? How can we build the best relationships with other people? And how do we do all these things in the face of dominant narratives that tell us what we should be doing but don’t offer room for us to figure out what we actually want? Next Year For Sure sure isn’t going to give you answers, but it might help you know yourself better so you can find them on your own.

Review at Reading Matters: “Needless to say the characterisation is superb: Peterson show us Kathryn and Chris’ flaws but refrains from casting judgement on them. They are messy, vulnerable people caught up in the ebb and flow of an intimate relationship, struggling to come to terms with the stability (and monotony) of a long-term partnership.”

Review at Buried in Print: “I do love the way that Chris decides to buy Kathryn a second-hand copy of one of her favourite books, Vilette, based on the way that it smells… And I love how Kathryn loves that slice of cherry pie. That whole scene actually, but her relationship with the pie is key… That smell… That taste… Those are the kinds of sticky bits which Peterson is tossing at me, while I am distracted by realistic dialogue and savvy observations which float across the whole story… And so many other details attach themselves to those sticky bits, and my heart got more involved than I expected.

Review at I’ve Read This: “Seriously people, why can’t we all just get along and mind our own business?

22 thoughts on “Giller Longlist: Next Year, For Sure by Zoey Leigh Peterson

  1. lauratfrey says:

    Okay. I’ve had this sitting on my side table for a few weeks and it’s probably due back at the library soon, but NOW I want to read it! I want to understand what compels the crush confession in the first place. I agree, crushes are normal, but it’s a HUGE taboo to mention them to your spouse…

    On the one hand I think monogamy is kind of stupid, reinforces patriarchy, etc, but I’m also married so…??? I don’t know!

  2. A Life in Books says:

    I’m already sold on this one after reading both Reading Matters and Buried in Print reviews. It’s an interesting subject and it sounds as if Peterson has treated it sensitively. Wouldn’t work for me!

  3. Lorilin says:

    Books like this always fascinate me. I don’t know that I ever LOVE reading them…yet I still continue to read them! Thanks for the review. I think I’m going to have to check it out. 🙂

    • Naomi says:

      I’m glad I’ve tempted you! This topic is fascinating, isn’t it? But it’s not very surprising, really, since we all live it everyday – relationship stuff. It’s always changing and there are so many “rules”.

  4. theresakishkan says:

    I found it very compelling and actually quite congenial in the sense that no character is truly awful (even Sharon…) and the whole plot is quite plausible. I suspect some of the critical hype surround the subject matter is just to sell books because the narrative and the context are so balanced that I never thought the author was writing the book to shock or take advantage of the reader but to explore territory that presented itself to her as worthy of her attention. Our attention. She’s not an opportunist. The writing is beautiful. And I look forward to what she writes next.

    • Naomi says:

      Absolutely. I thought she explored the subject with a lot of sensitivity. And I love the conversations it encourages.
      I found the friendship plot especially realistic – the drifting away, but it not really being any one person’s fault. It felt very natural.

  5. annelogan17 says:

    Thanks for the link back! And you’re right, I forgot to mention it in my review, but for a book about an open relationship, there isn’t that much sex. LOL, which probably means it’s a more realistic book than we realize 🙂

  6. The Cue Card says:

    Open relationship marriages eh? What a lovely thought — but don’t think it’d work ha! Sounds like an interesting exploration …. three celebrity crushes are all right …. fair game there.

    • Naomi says:

      I could be wrong, but I feel like there’s too much to consider for an open relationship to work out well for all involved. It’s hard enough with two!

  7. Laila@BigReadingLife says:

    Lovely review. This isn’t a book for me but I appreciate that the author is writing with a nuanced touch. I really like what she said about loneliness. I think that often what people are seeking in others (outside the marriage) is truly only found in exploration and challenge of your inner self, perhaps spirituality, perhaps medication, ha ha! Life is hard, even when you have a “perfect from the outside” marriage. Sounds like a good book, though.

    • Naomi says:

      Good point, Laila! I think you’re right about that. I don’t think we can possibly get everything we need from one other person, but a lot of what we’re looking for we can get from ourselves. (Or our doctors!) 🙂

  8. madamebibilophile says:

    Sounds interesting. I watched a documentary about open relationships once & I remember thinking that in each of the couples the power dynamic was a bit off – one of them seemed to be getting more out of it than the other. So a novel focussing on characters/psychology in such situations would have a lot of material!

    • Naomi says:

      Sounds like an interesting documentary! There’s so much to think about with this subject. And how it all goes depends on your characters. I would think the situation would be different for every couple. Someone else could set out to write the same book, but with different charaters, and end up with a completely different story/outcome!

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