Barring Complications by Blythe Rippon is not the kind of book I’m usually drawn to. Boy, I’ve been saying that a lot lately. I’m starting to worry my reputation as a read-only-SF kind of girl is in jeopardy. And yet, there are always stories that get my attention and I find myself, once again, making an exception. Barring Complications is one of those books, and one for which I’m glad I took the detour.
The story imagines the gay marriage debate in the Supreme Court of the United States from within and with one of the justices being a closeted lesbian. This topic is near and dear to my heart, as I suspect it is to many of us.
Supreme Court Justice Victoria Willoughby is already nervous enough about hearing arguments about the federal government’s refusal to recognize same-sex marriages in states where it’s legal. Based upon the personalities and political leanings of many of the other justices, she knows it’s going to be an uphill battle. On top of that, while she has never formally acknowledged her sexuality, it’s an open secret and she has to field media questions about why she won’t recuse herself. Outside pressures mount steadily when it becomes clear there’s a leak in her office, an overzealous reporter keeps getting her phone number, and a stalker is pestering her. When her college flame shows up representing the plaintiffs, her world is well and truly thrown off kilter.
For her part, Genevieve Fortin isn’t overly pleased at having to deal with Victoria. The justice broke her heart and she would rather not go through those memories again, thank you very much. She has more than enough to deal with in keeping her plaintiffs’ lawyers from each others’ throats. However, try as she might, she simply cannot seem to avoid Victoria. Their meetings are not only problematic because of the court case, but they also threaten to bring back every emotion Genevieve thought long-buried.
When arguments in front of the court are finally complete, the two women start to thaw toward each other. But will the weight of the years and the hurts done to each other smother their rekindled attraction? And will events put into action without their knowledge pull them apart before they can get together again?
Victoria Willoughby is the perfect lawyer who has sacrificed her personal life to get right where she wants to be: the Supreme Court. Though she is a lesbian, and most people seem cognizant of the fact, she doesn’t seem to have carried on a romantic relationship with anybody of note since she parted ways with Genevieve. Now that she’s where she always wanted to be, she’s started questioning whether the sacrifices were worth it. Her empty house and bed are only partially alleviated by her brother and his family. On the one hand, Victoria seems to relish her independence, but she is also deeply lonely and without many prospects to do something about it.
Genevieve Fortin, by contrast, is as out as it is possible to be. Since the disastrous end to her relationship with Victoria, she has flitted from one romance to another, though none have stuck. She certainly seems to enjoy herself. However, since running back into Victoria, the fun seems to have gone out of the chase. Now she has to decide if she’s ready to put the past behind her with Victoria, or if she’s ready to give it another try, even if it means heartbreak all over again.
Blythe has created a whole host of secondary characters who are quite fun, and are each fully-realized in their own right. I suspect she had a good time with them. There’s Rosie, owner of a DC flower shop, and one of Victoria’s few confidantes. Alistair Douglas, one of the liberal judges and Victoria’s friend and mentor on the court never fails to amuse with his penchant for slightly off-the-wall anecdotes and his ability to put together a mean cocktail.
The plaintiffs’ other lawyers, Nic Ford and Jamie Chance, are entertaining in their antics. A butch lesbian and flamboyant gay man respectively, their constant wrangling is a nice mirror for queer society in general. That they’re able to come together and work successfully in the end further proves how effective the metaphor is. Genevieve’s friend Bethany is the over-the-top personification of big Texas personalities. She’s also not above giving Genevieve a hard time while offering a sympathetic ear.
There are only a few of the well-drawn characters in the roster, but these entertained me the most.
The Writing Style
The writing style is interesting, as the book is broken out into distinct chunks, each from Victoria or Genevieve’s points-of-view. During each chunk, we follow along closely with that character. In the book’s first half, there is little direct interaction between the two main characters. Instead, we get that interaction in the form of flashbacks to the women’s relationship at Harvard. It’s an interesting authorial choice, but one that works quite well.
Blythe also does an amazing job with the dialogue. It’s very natural and has a great rhythm, which can be difficult to do. It is hard to believe this is her first novel as it has very few of the flaws one would expect from one’s maiden voyage.
The amount of detail about the Supreme Court and its inner workings is very impressive. Blythe has done her research, and done it well.
Blythe manages to pull together an engaging personal story that weaves in and around the bigger story of the gay marriage movement’s legal struggles for recognition. She has a huge stable of characters who will have you arguing with your friends over which one is your favourite. The romance is both tender and warm while unfolding slowly. At the beginning of the book, the parts I couldn’t wait to get to were the flashbacks to Genevieve and Victoria’s Harvard days. I would love to see more of that at some point. Maybe Blythe can be prevailed upon to offer up a short story or novella about their early romance.
My only reservation was the need to include the stalker. There are certainly enough forces arrayed against Victoria, and the stalker plotline felt a little tacked on. It disappeared halfway through the story and I had almost forgotten about it when it reappeared later on. There should have been enough anxiety and angst wrapped up in the potential confirmation of her sexuality to the press, and the stalker seemed unnecessary. That said, it’s a minor point and one that didn’t diminish my enjoyment of the story at all.
This is an excellent book and an incredibly impressive debut work. If you haven’t read it yet, do yourself a favour and head out and pick up a copy. Then get your friends to read it and have spirited discussions over which secondary character is the best. My vote goes to Bethany who cracks me up. I love someone who can good-naturedly give the people in her life that much crap, but still be warm-hearted and caring when it’s needed.
Excerpt from Barring Complications by Blythe Rippon
She was about to ask McKinzie how potty training his new dog was coming along when the door opened and Alistair Douglas entered. He took his seat at the vacant end of the oval table opposite O’Neil.
“Apologies for my late arrival. My clerk and I were distracted by this afternoon’s HER announcement.”
Victoria raised her eyebrows. She hadn’t heard any announcement from Her Equal Rights, a women’s rights organization that worked alongside agencies such as NCLR and the Human Rights Campaign. She took a sip of tea and continued to twirl her pen while waiting for Alistair to continue.
“After HER publicized that they have a new president, HRC and NCLR announced that they’ve changed the legal team arguing the Iowa gay marriage case, should we grant it cert. Which, of course, we have. And they’ll know that this afternoon when we publicize the docket.”
Kellen drummed his fingers on the tabletop. “Alistair. Wrap this up sometime today, please?”
After a dramatic eye roll, a huge Cheshire grin spread across Alistair’s face. “The new president of HER, and lead counsel for the Iowa case, is Genevieve Fornier.” He pulled a piece of paper out of his briefcase and slid it down the table, revealing a printout from the HER website with the announcement.
There she was.
In the photo, she was descending marble courtroom steps, her black skirt suit showing off chiseled legs and black stilettos. Her black hair was styled to perfection. Her piercing blue eyes seemed to bore into everyone in the room. She might have been a model, except that every justice there knew her as a tough-as-nails litigator with an off-the-charts track record.
The faces to the right of Kellen O’Neil looked annoyed. Expressions of delight could be found to his left.
A small gasp escaped Victoria’s lips and her pen clattered to the floor.
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Bits and Bobs
- ISBN number: 978-3955331917
- Publisher: Ylva Publishing