LOVE IS NOT Constantly Wondering if You Are Making the Biggest Mistake of Your Life has been sitting on my coffee table for weeks, and no one who sees it can resist picking it up. While the name of the book sounds like it came from Miranda July's Achingly Whimsical Title Generator™, the book design perfectly mimics an old Choose Your Own Adventure paperback—an intriguing contrast that's summed up in the jacket copy: "You are an ace starfighter pilot in the Galactic Space Force. Shot down over a mysterious planet, you have been taken captive by a race of giant, super-intelligent ants. However, this story is actually about your relationship with a young woman named Anne, and your struggles to cope with her alcoholism."
The book is a series of second-person journal-style entries, interspersed with Sarah Miller's wry illustrations of giant ants, alien landscapes, and a ray gun that looks suspiciously like a dildo. (Okay... it might actually be a dildo.) The anonymous Portland-based author traces a succinct arc through four years of his relationship with Anne, a musician and blackout drinker prone to fights, DUIs, and any number of other mishaps involving dogs, urine, and other people's children. In one early entry, describing their first date, he writes: "You like her. You're probably too different for this not [to] explode into a fiery mess after a few weeks, but you like her."
This is what is known as "foreshadowing."
The author's writing is dispassionate, with an endearingly geeky sensibility that provides another offbeat contrast to the seriousness of his subject matter. When he and Anne move to Portland during one of Anne's attempts to stay sober, they explain to their new friends that "they must never encourage her to drink or tell her that it's okay for her to drink. That giving Anne alcohol is like getting her wet, feeding her after midnight, and exposing her to bright lights all rolled up in one." Tragic situation; props for the Gremlins reference.
Love's tremendous appeal is in the tension between its clear-eyed, serious account of a difficult relationship, and its fun, nostalgic Choose Your Own Adventure aesthetic. But the book design serves a function beyond cutesiness: It is an implicit reminder that as hopeless and stuck as the narrator feels in his relationship, it's always up to him to choose whether to stay or to go. Giant mutant ants or no, it's a powerful, affecting device.