It’s not easy to write a love story devoid of the usual clichés such as the “meet cute” or unrealistically idealized physical descriptions, but author Sylvia Brownrigg does just that in her new novel, Pages for Her (373 pages; Counterpoint). The book is a sequel to 2001’s critically acclaimed Pages for You, in which the young and timid Flannery Jensen falls for her confident and much older professor, Anne Arden. Told in three parts, Pages for Her offers readers the chance to return to Flannery and Anne’s ardent, but lost, connection twenty years after their separation. While the time jump provides an eloquent exploration of memory, nostalgia, and individual growth for both Flannery and Anne, it is also filled with a lengthy recounting of mundane, everyday details which delays the reunion of these two characters. The languid pacing, which contains a myriad of tender and painful moments, deepens the bond between the reader and the characters, but somewhat diminishes interest in the central love story since the only trace of their romance resides in Anne and Flannery’s memory.
Instead, the strongest and most poignant parts of Pages for Her have less to do with plot and more the intimate relationships these women have apart from each other. It is a poetic and in-depth look at the self – as individual, writer, mother, wife, daughter, and lover. Flannery’s transition into motherhood becomes one of the most important aspects of Pages for Her; Brownrigg portrays her sometimes-limiting yet always unconditional love for her child, a love Flannery finds deep and life-altering.
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The gentle exchanges between Flannery and her daughter Willa serve in stark contrast to Anne, who has proven unwavering in her decision to remain childless and lost Jasper, her partner of twenty-years, as a result. Anne and Jasper’s relationship is just unconventional enough to keep the reader’s attention, with their fresh take on monogamy being perhaps the most interesting part of Anne’s story. We feel Flannery’s marital and creative frustrations, we feel her primal instincts as a mother and the zealous love that accompanies it. We also feel Anne’s quiet but piercing grief over releasing the man she loves to a life she cannot agree to, and we feel her slow return to a lover she has long cherished but could never pursue due to her bond with Jasper.
These relationships comprise the backbone of Pages for Her, depicting the intricate, complicated, and beautiful moments that lead Flannery and Anne back to a relationship they both knew was unfinished. As in our own lives, no matter how many years (or pages) it takes, “[w]hen two people came together who were meant to, the night and the meeting were elemental, and the trappings ceased to exist. All that mattered were the bodies. And the selves.”