A book is often bigger than the book itself. It may spread its ideas to millions of people who will never open it — through media coverage, author appearances, and buzz. The buzz really spreads if the book symbolizes some new idea, or discovery, or lesson that's easily talked about — boosted by media attention and the air of importance that the book's existence implies.
Louisa Leontiades's memoir The Husband Swap: A true story of unconventional love
(second edition) has been out for less than a month, and sales can't amount to much yet. But already she has reached millions of people through media coverage of her story. More on that below.
The book's talkworthy Big Idea, however, will be quite different to different people.
Leontiades is a polyactivist writer, a widely published blogger, and chair of the National Polyamory Association in Sweden. The Husband Swap
is the story of the tumultuous, catastrophically failed quad that introduced her and her husband to poly, broke four hearts and two marriages, and set her on the way toward her current joyous poly life with two men and two children.
This is Thorntree Press's heavily edited remake of the book's first edition, self-published in 2012, which was frankly an overlong first draft. As the title implies, it's the tale of two couples who combined into an unstable polycule that fissioned into two new couples flying off in different directions. Or in the poly reaction patterns described by Deborah Anapol two decades ago, a case of 2 + 2 => 2 + 2. The book unsparingly examines the volatile chemistry that took place within that reaction arrow: dazzling love, deep discovery, raging insecurities, careless bulldozing of unstated boundaries, paralyzing fear, plain nastiness (Leontiades does not spare herself in this regard), and real growth and development. This last is especially clear in the case of Louisa's nebbishy, indolent husband, who under the influence of his powerful, perfectionist bulldozer of a new partner, did a slum clearance on himself and redeveloped into the capable, successful man he should have been all along.
If you're looking for a happy poly story, this ain't it. You can see its Big Idea as being one of miserably hard trials setting brave pioneers onto better life paths with the mates they needed — or as a warning that polyamory is simply insane, and you'd be a fool to touch it.
Louisa is getting quite a bit of TV and newspaper attention, mostly in the UK where she grew up and where much of the story takes place. She is dwelling on her current excellent poly life and the message that staying true to herself and her dreams was worth it in the end.
|Louisa, her current partners and daughter today. Photo: The Times (of London)|
As she describes, normal people who've read the tale — or who watched the events unfold in person — were full of I-told-you-so's and are amazed that she has stuck with such a seemingly exhausting and difficult way of life. "As [a friend] trailed off trying to think of a reason [why normalcy is better]," she writes in the epilogue, "I smiled secretly to myself. You could throw anything at me now and I could undermine your argument—snap—like Miss Piggy's karate chop.
"Polyamory isn't for the faint-hearted. It can only be borne in the long term by those committed to sorting out their demons and growing almost beyond what we recognize as the basis of our humanity. But as a utopia, I still believe in it and in my life I still swear by it."
Selected to write the Foreword was Noel Figart, another public poly figure who came out of an exploded quad. Figart dispenses advice as The Polyamorous Misanthrope
and leads the PolyFamilies Yahoo Group
, which is 15 years old this month. "The love that will allow you to avoid these mistakes," she writes at the front of the book, "is a love that involves knowledge of yourself, deep understanding of your partners, a willingness to set appropriate boundaries and a huge helping of honesty — starting with yourself.
"The polyamorous community often hears that polyamory isn't easy. That's a bit disingenuous. The reality is that good relationships of any sort aren't easy. It's not necessarily that the relationships are work. It's that good relationships require you to ruthlessly and tirelessly work on yourself.
"Read this book carefully. There are excellent lessons in it, like a lovely coral reef below turbulent waves."
Louisa's epilogue to The Husband Swap
wasn't enough of an epilogue; there was still too much tumult. So she was moved to write a chapter-by-chapter companion guidebook to this edition: Lessons in Love and Life to My Younger Self
. It's available as an e-book; the print edition comes out this fall.
Here she speaks across seven years to her beloved former self, like a mother to a child in a dark place, who of course cannot hear — not so much advising about the specific incidents in each chapter, but how to be the better, more insightful kind of person who would have known better the ways to navigate herself and shape her utopia.
The two books are so closely interrelated that I wish they were bound together. The next printing of The Husband Swap
cries out to be one of those double-sided, turn-it-over books. The kind with the front and back being the front covers of two books, each ending where you hit the end of the other one printed upside down. At any point you can turn the book over like a stone, top to bottom, and read inward from the other front. The convenience of having the seven-years-later chapter reflections right at hand would be nice — but the symbolism of physically turning over the story, back and forth, would be arresting.
Okay, now about that media coverage. To help me get this piece posted, Thorntree Press co-publisher Eve Rickert and associate editor Roma have shared their record of the book's publicity so far. Here it is (with a few additions):
● Polyamory - I love you, you and you, Lea Sauer, Café Babel, October 14, 2014.
Summary: Introduces poly to a new audience. Quotes from Louisa and Christopher Gottwald, the spokesperson for the Polyamorous Network of Germany.
Quote: “A large revolution of love will likely not take place. Monogamy is the standard and will most likely remain that way for a long time. And that's also okay. Polyamorists, after all, aren't fighting against monogamy, but rather — according to Leontiades and Gottwald — for the "freedom to decide for oneself." What's most important is tolerance and acceptance for all forms of relationships. Whether monogamous or polyamorous, open or strictly faithful. After all, a little bit of openness never hurt anyone.”
Summary: Interview with Louisa, asking general questions about poly and other people’s perception of it. Also gives a short summary of the book.
Quote (from Louisa): “For those it offends, any change or any difference in lifestyle or inclination that threatens the norm does threaten the establishment. Many of the minority movements have basically the same battle, where their choices, simply by being different have threatened other people’s sense of their own rightness. The mind sometimes equates being right with surviving, in order to survive people like to be right.”
The video is only viewable in the UK, but from the opening: “To most, the thought of their other half making love to someone else is unthinkable. But to Louisa Leontiades it's a pre-requisite.”
Summary: A written version of the This Morning interview. Sensationalist. Has incorrect stuff, says Louisa.
● Me & my two boyfriends, The Sun (UK), Feb. 2, 2015. Behind paywall.
Summary: A sweet article filling a two-page spread in the print issue.
Quote: ‘When my boyfriend Christian and I arrive at the school gates to pick up my five-year-old daughter Freya, she shouts: ‘My mummy’s here! Oh and look, there’s Christian, Mummy’s special friend!’
The other parents don’t bat an eyelid, although I don’t know what they say behind closed doors. This is because I make no secret of the fact I’m in a committed relationship with not only the father of my children, Gosta, but also Christian, who I’ve been seeing for 18 months.
En "The Husband Swap" ("El intercambio de marido"), su autora rememora lo que ocurrió cuando, intentando revitalizar su vida matrimonial, decidió intercambiar a su esposo con otro hombre.
Summary: Pretty basic questions about poly, including how they decided who would sleep with whom, and did they get jealous, etc. About 10 minutes.
On April 29th Louisa posted,
With the storm of email that's hit my inbox over the past few days thanks to The Times article, so many magazines have contacted me. I reply with a 'That would be lovely, and I'm very willing to discuss polyamory, logistics and loving relationships etc. but I won't be going into any inside the bedroom details.' And they don't say 'We respect your privacy and understand.' Instead they say, 'Sorry, we're a populist title, so if you won't discuss your sex life, Bye Bye'.
● Book Review, Barry Smiler, Electronic Journal of Human Sexuality, Volume 18, February 21, 2015.
Summary: Positive review focusing on the relatability of the story.
Quote: “The description of these deeply personal interactions is what gives this book its power. And power it does have. As the story of the quad's journey unfolds, this book's well-crafted dialogue and characterizations offer solid insights into, not just these four people, and not just polyamorous people, but any of us, in any sort of relationship.”
● Book Review, The Sassy She, Lisa Lister, May 11, 2015.
Summary: Positive review, and interview with Louisa. Writer is in a monogamous relationships, and talks about how reading this book challenged her perception of relationships.
Quote: “I’m GLAD her story challenged me, if I didn’t want to be challenged I’d read freakin’ Danielle Steel novels, right? We all need our perspectives challenged + our hearts opened by the real stories of women and their experiences. Louisa is a powerful storyteller – emotional, curious and crazy amounts o’ honest, and she sheds much-needed insight into a world most of us have only experienced through press stories, or if, like me you have a girl-crush on Chloe Sevigny, and have watched back to back Big Love.”
● Book Review, Polyamory on Purpose, Jessica Burde, Feb. 11, 2015.
Summary: Positive review, author relates back to her own experience.
Quote: “This is not a happy poly story. This is not a tale of how polyamory works, or how much more “advanced” polyamory is. Fans of HEA romance will likely be disappointed in both the ending and the brutally simple way Louisa tells her story, without the dramatics or flair of plot-driven fiction. Fans of polyamory will likely be disappointed in the ending of the relationship, the failure of the book to be a flag-waving paean to the wonders of poly life.”
Summary: Positive review, talks about how this books differs in that it doesn’t focus on what “mistakes” were made, but rather just tells the story of what happened.
Quote: “While reading it, I experienced bubbles of delight and identification — at the weird-this-isn’t-weird feeling of coming down to breakfast with your lover and your husband and his lover, at the terror of falling in love when your relationship involves more people than just yourselves, at the back and forth of sympathy, anger, alliance, and threat you can feel toward a close metamour. It left me wanting more — more poly stories, more people writing about the specific feelings and situations that I know so well, that are so rarely reflected in literature. It felt so, so good to read someone telling a story that, while nothing like any of my stories, has many of the same notes and moments underlying it.”
Summary: Other authors on the list of 6 are Jackie Collins, Nancy Friday, Erica Jong, Shirley Conran and Janet Evanovich.
● Book Review, Loving Without Boundaries blog, by Kitty Chambliss, April 8, 2015.
Quote: "I felt like I found a very close, dear comrade within the pages of that book – a friend who has shared some of my own heartache, pain as well as joy in choosing to live a polyamorous life, and then diving in courageously and unapologetically to see what happens next."
● A book review in Russian.
Quote: “This is an unusual one, but stay with us.”
Here are excerpts from both books
Louisa's Facebook page
Labels: Book reviews by me, books, U.K.