Reviewed by Amy Susan Wilson
Traci L. Slatton’s The Love of My (Other) Life explores the psyche of a woman who has suffered romantic wounds and is searching for a soul mate. Action-packed and fast-paced, this sci-fi thriller has another side to it, a metaphysical side, and it’s colored by images of the contemporary art world.
Tessa Barnum, a New Yorker, struggles financially, creatively, and spiritually. Her husband, David, has recently divorced her, and she’s behind on rent and co-op dues by more than a few months; she is about to be evicted, and as if this were not enough, she’s made some serious missteps in her artistic career as an up-and-coming painter.
While working as an elder caregiver and trying to revive her art career by re-establishing her reputation in the art world, Tessa is blindsided by scruffy Brian Tennyson. On a chance encounter near New York’s Riverside Park, Brian explodes into Tessa’s life and claims to be from an alternative universe. Tessa thinks he is one of Manhattan’s unfortunate homeless men, albeit one with alluring, mysterious appeal. He is scruffy but well-spoken. He claims he was a Yale professor and she his calculus student.
He also claims that Tessa was his wife in another universe and that she died of cancer at an early age, mid-thirties. He alleges that he’s come to her reality—her universe—to rejoin her in real time. But he has only days before he vaporizes into the universe.
Tessa, initially appalled at his claims, believes Brian may be an unfortunate physics professor—one who suffered a mental breakdown—but still finds him oddly attractive and engaging.
The plot of Tessa’s “real time” life unfolds dually with the plot of Brian’s life with her—an alternative life that could have been if had she made different choices. The plot, in this respect, is multi-layered, exploring Tessa’s life as it is, and, at the same time, as it could have been.
How does Columbia University-educated Tessa fall under seemingly crazy Brian’s spell? The answer, in part, is that Tessa understands, intuitively, that Brian seeks a primal love, whether he is dealing with reality or simply a wild perception that relieves his own pain and loss. Brian tells her, “It hurts to lose someone you love.” And: “It hurts so bad you can’t imagine. Sometimes I can’t breathe. The days without you stretch out like an unending wasteland, gray and empty forever. … I only ever wanted to be with you from the moment I met you.”
The unwelcome yet comforting entrance of Brian into Tessa’s life forces her to grapple with emotional issues while she struggles to get by financially. She’s evicted from her apartment, and her only hope for re-entering her home as a resident again is to cough up $12,000 in back-payments.
The eccentric and deceptively brilliant Brian proves to be a hero and a spiritual protector for Tessa. Whatever or whoever he is—a kook from the homeless streets of New York; an alternate-universe traveling “physics professor” who is searching for his young, dead wife; or a delightful fraud—Brian is a healing force in Tessa’s life.
And this is what this novel is about: healing. Tessa’s life changes once she is loved by a man she connects with, a man who is so unlike her cold, detached ex-husband, David. But Brian—physics professor at Yale…street person…whoever he is—vanishes from her life as quickly as he came.
His impact on Tessa is profound. Her financial situation improves, she reinvigorates her artistic talents, she gains self-confidence, and, in short, she takes out “a new lease on life.” Her story shows it isn’t time that heals, but love.
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