The Last Place You Look
I used to think love was all about losing yourself in another person. But you make me feel seen, loved, as a whole person, exactly as I am.
This snippet of dialogue is one of several touching lines that Aurora Rey crafts in her queer romance, The Last Place You Look. Reading Rey’s eloquent, often insightful prose is a pleasure. However, the novel overall is wholly unremarkable and contains moderately likeable protagonists and a sluggish plot.
Julia Pierce’s eight-year marriage comes to a sudden and bitter end when her wife leaves her for a younger woman. Without a job and on her own in New York City, Julia moves upstate to live in her late grandma’s house and to work at her family’s winery. Immediately after her arrival, Julia strikes up a fast friendship with her former high school classmate, Taylor Winslow. Taylor, now a successful local woodworker, hasn’t fully gotten over her secret crush on Julia.
Determined to overcome her post-divorce funk, Julia commits to “slutting it up” with every eligible lesbian she can find. For reasons that I can’t quite understand, Julia believes that her marriage has kept her from enjoying the casual fun of hooking up with ‘randoms.’ Ever the supportive friend (who hopes to soon exit the friend zone), Taylor agrees to serve as Julia’s wingman by swooping in to save her from dates gone awry.
Throughout Julia’s serial dating exploits, she and Taylor develop an intense attraction to each other that is too palpable to ignore. But both women are apprehensive about becoming romantically involved. Julia fears a ruined friendship, and Taylor fears a broken heart. And, I fear that the misuse of the term “wingman” will continue to bother my semantics-obsessed mind for many weeks hence.
Technically, Taylor does not perform the functions of a true wingman. According to Wikipedia, “A wingman (or wingmate) is a role that a person may take when a friend needs support with approaching potential romantic partners.” Taylor helps Julia to get out of one really bad date, and she offers a ‘listening ear.’ She doesn’t actually help Julia to facilitate conversations with potential hookups.
The Last Place You Look isn’t a bad read. I liked it well enough, but it ultimately falls short on oomph. The first 70% of the novel more or less describes the falling-in-love journey of Julia and Taylor with minimal relationship blips. Not much happens to keep the reader engaged or curious and wanting more. Most of the plot-driven action occurs in the last 30%, which includes a minor plot twist that results in quickly resolved conflict. There were choices made by the author that do little to enhance the story’s overall appeal. For example, more time is spent describing Taylor’s solitary job as a furniture maker, than describing Julia’s job as a tasting room host at a popular winery. And there is a kink scene that is just as vanilla as the rest of the sex contained in the novel.
Unfortunately, I also wasn’t crazy about Julia and Taylor as a love match. Their coupledom appears to be predicated on hero worship. Divorcee Julia lacks self-esteem and strives to build a life of her own making, while the seemingly perfect Taylor is everything that Julia aspires to becoming – confident and capable. Julia fawns over Taylor’s numerous accomplishments and soaks up all of her sage advice and guidance. In fact, Taylor functions as more of a therapist and life coach to Julia than a romantic partner. Simply stated, Julia loves Taylor because she wants to be like her, and Taylor loves that Julia adores her. Regardless of the protagonists’ reasons for falling in love with each other, the pair does share some genuinely romantic dates, and there are interactions between Julia and Taylor and secondary characters that are truly heartwarming.
While I didn’t find The Last Place You Look to be largely compelling, the novel is an acceptable ‘pass-the-time in quarantine’ read. And in these troubling times, a just-okay romance novel that can help you to escape for a while isn’t a bad thing.