Title: Out of Wedlock: A Novel
Author: Larry Lockridge
Out of Wedlock is an offbeat fictional story where Jess is a plastic surgeon in New York City looking for Ms. Right. Love has not been kind to Jess throughout most of his early life, but he thinks he found his soulmate in food critic Natalia. Jess is able to talk with Natalia about the ups and downs in his life, from being raised in a string of foster homes to being perpetually isolated in the friend zone. Despite his earnestness in revealing much about himself, Natalia isn’t put off and agrees to see him.
The plot proceeds at a fast pace as the protagonist, Jess, attempts to settle down with Natalia. However, Natalia makes for a formidable foil as she is loath to put a label on their relationship. While Jess is deftly portrayed as a hopeless romantic, Natalia is a liberated free spirit. Jess and Natalia agree on a specified day of the week for their romantic assignations. Jess’s disposition is such that he would rather agree to the unconventional to avoid losing Natalia. The future of their relationship, romantic or otherwise, becomes an important part of the narrative.
The romance aspect of Jess’s life shares similarities with his career, as they are both messy. As a relationship goes sideways, so does plastic surgery. The humor tends to go into the surreal as the author vividly describes the horrid details of Jess’s botched procedures. There are parallels between Jess’s love life and his trade in how Jess is aiming for stability in both, but he rarely finds it. When the enigmatic Maggie Epstein enters Jess’s life, the Jess-Natalia dynamic has become multi-dimensional.
Out of Wedlock is not a conventional love story in any sense. Author Larry Lockridge (Shade of the Raintree) has written a fascinating character study about sex, love, and life. Jess is an atypical, underdog protagonist struggling between being on top of the world and at the end of his string. He is the constant “good guy” fighting to catch a break. The absence of any stability in his early life left him craving any version of it as he got older.
The romantic entanglements he becomes locked in serve as comic relief as the circumstances become more bizarre. Jess is surrounded by women whose needs he can’t truly comprehend, despite his continued attempts. Jess is a sympathetic character, even if his various dilemmas may not be completely relatable. Natalia and Maggie each possess an air of mystery about them that makes them compelling to both Jess and the reader.
The emotional crux of the story is the poignancy of Jess’s travails, as he refuses to quit despite constant rejections. The opening scene where Jess awakes from a nightmare only to emerge into a near fantasy boldly proclaims this story’s direction.
Out of Wedlock breaks the mold of the stereotypical romance and applies a modern touch. This is a funny, occasionally touching story about love in an often cruel and unlove-able world. Author Larry Lockridge has created a story that won’t easily be forgotten.
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