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Book Review : Popular Fiction
Oxford Messed Up
Reviewed by Jenn "The Picky Girl"
Love is...dirty. And when you're obsessive compulsive and steering clear of dirt is part of who you are, then love is out of the question. Gloria never thought Oxford would be the place where she could escape her Obsessive Compulsive Disorder or find love, but Henry Young, a recovering drug addict dealing with his own demons will jolt her from her ordered environment. How? He's her loomate. For a woman who waits through 15 hours of travel to get to Oxford before relieving her bladder because of her fear of germs in public restrooms, sharing a bathroom is a Big. Deal. Sharing a bathroom with a man who doesn't have the best hygiene? Definitely not ideal. But her germ-infested loomate can also speak to Gloria in a language she understands - Van Morrison.
Gloria is a Rhodes Scholar studying, what Henry calls, "those depressing dead women poets," Anne Sexton, Sara Teasdale, and Sylvia Plath. Henry, on the other hand, is only at Oxford because of his dad's ties to academia. They're an unlikely pair, but their romance is slow and sweet, Van Morrison and his lyrics helping them each step of the way. In fact, though there is definitely attraction, each is hell bent on helping the other, and it works.
Not only does it work, but it also doesn't feel forced in terms of the writing or characterization. Gloria isn't magically cured by the end of the book, and Henry slips and has to have a sit down with his AA sponsor. Too often, addictions or illnesses are treated as plot devices that are tied up once the couple is in love or the family is happy or whatever other happy denouement the author employs. Instead, Henry and Gloria are like the tupelo blossoms in one of their favorite songs, blossoms whose "vulnerability and short blossoming season made it a fucking miracle anytime one survived." Survive they do, and though this book has a "happy" ending, it also comes with the understanding that this couple is real. Just as tupelo honey is the triumph of the tupelo's survival, so too do Henry and Gloria have to survive to taste the sweetness of a life together, a life for which they will continue to work - individually and as a couple.
Read this if you want a bit of smart romance or are interested in depictions of mental illness, specifically Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.
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Jenn, a.k.a The Picky Girl, is a faculty advisor, teaching English at a local university in a small town. She has a love affair with fiction – almost any type – and classic film. As to the “picky” part of the title – she likes to think of it as discerning. She admits to picking books by their covers. Jenn is partial to mysteries (especially Scottish and English procedurals) and classics (except Charles Dickens). You can follow all her literary adventures at http://www.thepickygirl.com.
by Andrea Kayne Kaufman
Grant Place Press, Chicago, IL
336 page paperback; $14.95
Kindle edition $6.99