I picked up this book on ebook a short while after it came out. I was new to the blogging world, starting again on Twitter, and relatively new to the polyamorous lifestyle and it’s hard to find popular fiction books that cover unusual relationship styles, so I thought I’d give it a go.
The book as a whole I’d class as ‘thoughtful brain candy’; it’s the type of book you snuggle up with in a comfy place when you’re looking for something easy to read, fun, and with a bit of material to think about and ponder. It’s written in a very easy to read prose in simple English (as opposed to Austen and Tolkein’s flowery and sometimes hard going prose) and I will admit that I was worried when I started it that it would be too bland and simplistic for me to enjoy.
However. Enjoy it I did.
Ryan and Jennifer are easily likeable characters that I think most people can relate to, or know someone who is similar. They’re the average man and women with an average life in an average vanilla world who are having their average normal marital issues. However, unlike many people, their life changes when they meet Bruce and Paige who are, much to their friend’s quiet tutting dismay, swingers.
Ryan and Jennifer quickly enter the lifestyle and I can relate to their rush of interest and the whole newness and possibilities when discovering there’s other options out there than monogamy. Cooper does a good job of showing the ‘frenzy’ that often occurs and I found I was equally enthused by the characters’ own enthusiasm.
I was equally hurt by the first road bump the couple face – and it reminded me why I’m polyamorous rather than a swinger – I need attachment and love in my relationships rather than being able to just enjoy the physical side. The second road bump at the party had me putting the book down for a few days because I didn’t want it all to go wrong for them and I could see it coming. With me currently giving one of my partners some space, and a friend I love dearly currently smitten with someone new – leading me to feel (with no right to be) jealous – I could easily empathise with the hurt that they faced.
I’ve never been to a swinging party but the general etiquette is used in other fringe areas, so it wasn’t hugely surprising that the fantasy eroded into reality and also that they made the mistakes they did. I will say that the description of the party in the later stages struck me as bacchaneal and primal and probably not something I would, personally, enjoy going to. When you’ve only had sex in private with a limited number of people, the atmosphere described would be pretty scary.
The (somewhat unsurprising) ending felt a bit rushed, with several months combined into a few pages. However I can appreciate that months of inaction and everyday living
would be incredibly tedious for both writer and reader, and I can’t suggest any way to make it more interesting and less hurried towards the conclusion. It is, however, a satisfying ending, although I felt that both Ryan and Jennifer would suit polyamory better than swinging, and a nice solution would be a poly quad with Bruce and Paige with occasional swinging on the side. It felt like they were looking for the emotional connection and feelings far more than the swinging group were. I’m looking forward to any sequel that explores this more fully.
One of the successes this book has is in its simple language and sparse description – it’s easy to imagine Paige and Bruce as people that the reader finds attractive, while still retaining some characteristics of their own, such as Bruce’s moustache and wine knowledge. The protagonists are also given personality – Jennifer’s lesbian interests, Ryan’s insecurity – while still being vague enough to be readily familiar and identifiable with. It is also easy to see familiarity in Noah and Barbara, and Sam and Patti. Cooper doesn’t go into reams of description, instead sketching the characters in both personality and looks and letting our imagination fill in the rest, especially in the sex scenes when too much description can sometimes overwhelm.
In conclusion, I’d say this was a very good first novel (Cooper has also published a collection of ‘personal essays, stories, erotica, and prescriptive “how-tos”’ about swinging – My Life on the Swingset) and a fun and easy read which makes you really feel for the characters and their situations, while educating the reader on the swinging lifestyle. It’s not a lifestyle I’m inspired to take up, but I’m glad to have a more realistic image of it after reading this book. A Life Less Monogamous successfully reminds us that there are probably more ‘normal ‘ and ‘average’ people into different relationship styles than we would immediately think in a humorous and interesting way.