“Someone Else’s Love Story” Author: Joshilyn Jackson Publisher: William Morrow Pages: 300 Price: $26.99 (Cloth)
Joshilyn Jackson has achieved the status of best-selling author with a solid reader/fan base. One can tell that from the dust jacket: her name is in larger, brighter type than the words of the title.
This is not undeserved. Jackson has developed some good moves as a novelist: truly surprising plot turns, eccentric but not insane characters and, over all, a premise that makes many of the characters’ moves and motives slightly offbeat. In “Between, Georgia,” for example, most of the characters were deaf. In this novel, the premise is a virgin birth, right here in the twenty-first century.
Shandi Pierce, the heroine, gave birth to her son Natty by C-section, and her hymen, intact before the birth, remains so. Natty is now three, a genius, testing north of 140, and a charming boy.
Of course this is not, one might say, actually a miracle. She was impregnated by an unknown human male, after being rufied, drugged, at an Emory fraternity party.
It’s not the only miracle either. In this novel people, plural, come back from the dead!
And Jackson knows how to open a novel. The first line is: “I fell in love with William Ashe at gunpoint in a Circle K.”
Shandi and Natty—named after Natty Bumppo, Cooper’s Leatherstocking—have stopped for gas and snacks when Stevie, a tattooed moron, holds the place up incompetently and, thwarted, is forced to take hostages. Shandi is terrified; Natty could be killed. But William, a stranger, fearlessly heroic, saves the day.
William, about 35, 13 years older than Shandi, is a fine specimen, 6 foot 4, handsome, a bodybuilder, athletic, a genius and a PhD specializing in genome research.
He is, nevertheless, a sad fellow. He lost his wife Bridget and small daughter Twyla, it seems, in an auto wreck and the grief has driven him to an emptiness not quite suicidal but not focused on survival at any cost either. He might be perfect for Shandi and Natty, and he can discover who Natty’s biological father actually is.
William, alas, has Asperger’s, so regular human social intercourse does not come easy. He has OCD, has trouble reading faces and emotions, and is very literal.
Also complicating matters—and who would have it any other way?—Shandi has a best friend, a male, Walcott, a poet, whom alert readers will know fancies Shandi, and William has a best friend, female, Paula, a brilliant, ferocious, mixed-race divorce lawyer who, alert readers will suspect, means to be more than buddies with William. Jackson is exploring the issue of whether a male and female can be JUST friends. Thorny business.
As the title suggests, this novel is a love story, so matters will not run smoothly.
Who is Natty’s father? Was there a rape? Will Walcott and Paula declare themselves? Whom will William choose, if he is indeed capable of choosing? Is choosing even the right course? William had courted Bridget so brilliantly he prevailed over his rival, God; she was in a convent training to become a nun, and he managed that by wisely never forcing Bridget to choose between him and the deity.
Does all this sound confusing? It’s not, finally. These are mostly all good people and Jackson, like Agatha Christie, finally explains all. Jackson loves her characters and though this is very much a girlie book, I too came to like these young lovers and care about their destinies.
This review was originally broadcast on Alabama Public Radio. Don Noble is host of the Alabama Public Television literary interview show “Bookmark” and the editor of “A State of Laughter: Comic Fiction from Alabama.”