Monday, November 30, 2015

Loving Donovan by Bernice McFadden (2003)

I received a copy of Loving Donovan by Bernice McFadden (2003) through the LibraryThing Early Reviewers program. Actually, it's the third book of McFadden's I've gotten through Early Reviewers (see my reviews for Gathering of Waters and Nowhere is a Place), and I've liked all three so much that I should probably throw some of my own money down on the next one.

Loving Donovan is (as you may guess) a kind of a love story, deeply rooted in the characters of its two protagonists, Campbell and Donovan. The first section of the book, "Her: 1973-1980," takes us through Campbell's childhood, ages eight through fifteen, and delves into the history of her family, particularly her mother, Millie, and her larger than life aunt, Luscious. Campbell has a loving but strained family life, is pushed into sex with a boyfriend when she is 15 and, like her mother and Luscious, gives birth to a child before she is really ready.

The second section, "Him: 1971-1985" gives Donovan the same treatment, ages seven to twenty-one. He also has a strained family life after his mother leaves his father and takes his baby sister with her, leaving the men to live with Donovan's overbearing and controlling Grammy (who has a slightly belief-defying connection to Luscious that would have been a little too much if it wasn't handled as lightly as it was). Donovan is sexually abused as a young boy, an experience he finds it impossible to talk about, and one that will color his relationships and emotions for the rest of his life. Still, he is an athletic and friendly young man, and an ambitious and hard worker who quickly builds a good life for himself, albeit a lonely one in an apartment on the second floor of Grammy's house.

Finally, "Them: 1999-2000" brings Campbell and Donovan together. They are both in their thirties, both experienced in life and (more or less) in love. Both pretty lonely. They have an immediate spark and a strong connection that is boosted by, and ultimately destroyed by, the experiences we lived through with them in the first two sections of the book. We know from Campbell's prologue at the beginning that their relationship wouldn't last, but that doesn't make working through its ups, downs, and implosion any easier.

Like the other two books I've read, McFadden has a lyrical writing style that matches the depth and intensity of her characters. She does not shy away from violent, upsetting, and cruel actions, but she is just as willing to wax poetic and sing out the happy parts of her characters' lives. I really enjoyed the structure of this book, although I could have used a little more Them (or, alternatively, a little more of Campbell's young adulthood). And I was, to be honest, a little disappointed in the ending which I thought veered away from the personalities of the characters that we'd spent so much time getting to know. Still, McFadden has created another encompassing and readable universe here, and one which any reader in love with good characters should try to seek out.

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