Jane Austen’s Emma and swinging. Those are two flavors you wouldn’t necessarily pair up, but Taylor Hahn marries them in a modern AU called The Lifestyle. The story that ensues is fun and fast paced, but the end result is predictable and kinda trite.
In this version of the tale, our Emma is high-powered executive Georgina Wagman, and her Harriet is Meredith De Luca, her young protegée and junior associate. One would think that the Knightley is Georgina’s husband, Noah. But then Georgina walks in on Noah doing the nasty with Meredith. And even though she finds the sight a little arousing – beautiful, even – she’s horrified.
Micromanaging Georgina decides that the best way to salvage the marriage and avoid divorce is to enter the swinging lifestyle. They end up being joined in this endeavor by their best friends, conservative Felix and his significant other Alina and honest Norah and her significant other, Ari. Since Georgina has always wanted Felix and Norah to get together, this is a thrill for her. Everything seems to be going great leading into the first swap party and she even picks someone new to swing with. Unfortunately, her college ex, Whitaker, is also a part of the scene. Quincy Whitaker was the best lover she’s ever had, and the one who got away. Georgina soon finds herself torn between a possible future with Whitaker and her fumbling marriage.
Dear readers, I am sick of only one thing when it comes to poly/ménage/swinging romances – when they’re used as a cover for thoroughly conventional triangles which resolve into neat pairings. This is boring, and makes the polyamory look like kinky fluff you’re slathering over your conventional love triangle romance to make it look more interesting. While Hahn is refreshingly nonjudgmental about swinging, poly situations and kink exploration, the reader will perhaps be unsurprised to learn that most of the main characters do not remain in “The Lifestyle.” That does make some of her plot choices feel like window dressing for a basic love triangle. Indeed, just reading the above description probably gives you a good idea as to who ends up with whom here, and why. That’s enough to convince me to bust my grade down to a C. From the description above you probably know who the Frank Churchill is and who the Knightley is – and which man our Emma will end up with.
And yet Georgina’s confused, muddled feelings and her neophyte’s exploration of kink and swinging feel far too credible to sink this one into D territory. Hahn definitely gets something of the human heart correct in this, and the final scene in the book is bittersweet enough to give even your earnest reviewer a lump in the throat. Noah cheats on Georgina, but he’s not an evil person, and Georgina herself – with her peppy intensity and attempts at arranging life for everyone around her – can be just as annoying as Ms. Woodhouse. Hahn has a lot of talent, and the character beats are good even if the plot is stale and predictable.
The Lifestyle will be a puzzlement to romance fans. Conventional and yet easy to read, it’s an imperfect experience.
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Lisa Fernandes is a writer, reviewer and recapper who lives somewhere on the East Coast. Formerly employed by Firefox.org and Next Projection, she also currently contributes to Women Write About Comics. Read her blog at http://thatbouviergirl.blogspot.com/, follow her on Twitter at http://twitter.com/thatbouviergirl or contribute to her Patreon at https://www.patreon.com/MissyvsEvilDead or her Ko-Fi at ko-fi.com/missmelbouvier