“I always did everything I was supposed to without complaining. It’s my life, but I’m still waiting for my turn to be in charge.”
After recently being dumped by her girlfriend Margot, Alice is starting to believe that being asexual and biromantic might mean that she is going to be alone forever. Except for her best friends Feenie and Ryan, but even they are a couple on the road to marriage, and Alice can’t help but feel like a third wheel. Then she meets Takumi, a new employee at the library where she works, who is so stunningly attractive that Alice has a twinge of doubt about her identity for the first time since she learned the word asexual. But after her complicated history of relationships with people who don’t share her ace orientation, Alice promises herself that she won’t get involved with Takumi, even though he clearly seems to like her. After all, she has bigger things to worry about, like the fact that her parents might stop paying for her education if she refuses to go to law school.
Let’s Talk About Love opens with Alice and Margot breaking up on page one. Contrary to what is in the publisher’s summary, Alice doesn’t actually tell Margot that she is asexual. In fact, she has been having sex with Margot to please her, but refusing to let Margot reciprocate, and refusing to explain why. After rattling off every ace stereotype in the book—all without ever actually using the word—Margot breaks up with Alice because “you could never love me as much as I would love you.” With the exception of Feenie and Ryan, in fact, Alice has never revealed her sexual identity to anyone, especially not her romantic partners, a fact that continues to end in heartbreak and misunderstandings.
Although written in the third person, Claire Kann’s style makes the narrative feel personal, and her chatty voice is filled with bracketed asides. As a character, Alice is well-defined beyond her asexuality. She loves television, and her hobby is writing critical essays about her favourite programs. She loves food, but can’t cook to save her life. She is still undeclared, because she doesn’t want to declare Political Science the way her parents want, on her way to becoming a lawyer. She would rather become an interior designer, a career that would take advantage of her “intense obsession with aesthetics.” But she knows that her parents would never pay for her to study something so frivolous.
There are three sets of relationships that make up Alice’s story. First is her long-standing friendship with Feenie and Ryan, who also become her roommates after her break-up with Margot. Unfortunately, this felt like a rather unhealthy triad, because Feenie is volatile and emotionally manipulative, and Ryan tended to go along with her more egregious behaviour. I also felt that Feenie and Ryan expected Alice to understand and accept that they were a couple, but seemed to expect that her asexuality would mean that she would never have an outside relationship that would be as significant to her as their friendship.
Although none of them ever make an in-person appearance, Alice’s family is also significant to her story and identity. Her parents are lawyers, with a fierce determination that their children will have the opportunities they did not, and that they will have all the advantages that they can give them that will help make up for some of the unfairness of racism and prejudice. Her older siblings Aisha and Adam are almost like another set of parents, because they are significantly older than Alice, who came along last, and unexpectedly. Although her family has money, Alice is trying to stand on her own, and claim the freedom that would come with paying her own way.
Takumi is the newest relationship in Alice’s life, but their connection quickly becomes intense, even as Alice continues to struggle with her promise to herself not to get involved. They meet at the library, but I’ll try to leave aside my professional nitpicks about the way the library is depicted, and the fact that they go around making googly eyes in the stacks when they are supposed to be working. Their relationship is indeed cute and swoonworthy, but I felt like the book ended before they really hashed out the inevitable complexities of a relationship between an allosexual person and an asexual one, partly because Alice can’t bring herself to tell him the truth for most of the book. As a result, matters still felt rather unresolved despite the epilogue.
Taking place largely over the course of a summer, with her future in flux, Let’s Talk About Love explores friendship, family, and romance, and how these different types of relationships contribute to our ideas about what it means to love.
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