What Love Becomes

Love triumphs. They marry and live happily ever after. The End.

But not always. In Jan Marin Tramontano’s new novel, What Love Becomes, we meet two fortyish couples two decades later, and it’s not happily ever after. None of these people got what they’d envisioned. Both wives are tortured by regret.

One connects with the other’s husband, they fall in love, and plan for a new life together. But on the very night it was to start, a terrible car crash intervenes.

That’s just the prologue. I was expecting the narrative to proceed from there. But the author instead, interestingly, now goes to backstory, more fully and intimately chronicling the two marriages, and what went wrong. That’s the meat of the book. Only near the end does the tale pick up again from the crash.

Obviously, this is the antithesis of a standard romance novel. No bodice-ripper. In fact, one sex scene is given in all its yucky disappointment. This is a book about real life, and Tramontano does a great job drawing the reader in to the characters and the troubles they grapple with.

People are complicated, and when the complications of one are multiplied by those of another, it’s meta-complexity. That was true in my own history, with which this novel had considerable resonance. Its bust-up was sudden in comparison to mine — a messy, protracted process, consuming years. But a lot of the feelings depicted in the book are ones I’ve felt. And ones my ex felt.

In the novel, Blake has his bags packed, planning to lower the boom on his unsuspecting wife and decamp to rendezvous with the other. I had such a night myself. Blake’s plan is up-ended by the car crash. Mine by the woman’s rejection. Eventually the boom did get lowered — on me. Though by then I saw it coming.

The novel has a contrapunto, a third couple, not married but finally heading there (slowly). And the two spurned spouses, though marooned, are finally making progress against their respective demons. So a happy ending of sorts, after all.

Tramontano’s final passage is lovely. She’d opened with parasailing as a metaphor for marriage, saying the day may come “when we cut our own towline.” The ending returns to that metaphor: “Believe that the wind helping you glide through the air will push you in any direction you wish to go.”

It may not. But “believe” is key. One has to believe that, despite all the buffeting winds, one isn’t powerless to set a path. That’s what the book’s characters do. It’s no fairy tale, but in the end their lives are in their own hands.

For twelve years I tried with that gal. I failed but maybe that was necessary for me. So next time was better — far better. That’s how human life works. Ideally.

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