Have you ever wished that you plug your love life into a formula and receive a print-out of your most compatible partners? Despite protestations to readers that her recent publication, Love by the Numbers, isn’t a love manual, Dr. Nicole Hathaway is swept to the top of the bestsellers by hopeful lovelorns. Every major book group (and yes, even the coveted Oprah endorsement) touts her title. During the day, she leads the life of Dr. Nicole Hathaway, a woman focused on a career and conclusions drawn from facts, not opinion. By night, she dons a black leather jack and slips into her private persona, Cole. Cole occasionally beds women she meets at bars and other low-key social scenes. Places where no one connects her to the university behavioral scientist she is to the rest of the world. No one knows she has a personal life, much less that she is a lesbian. Not even her mother, Indira, or her younger sister, Kate, both of whom live with Nicole at their shared family home. Kallmaker highlights the various opposites that inhabit this story: from Nicole’s close family to Lily’s lack of family; worldly and people savvy to antisocial and academic; and Nicole in the closet hiding to Lily hiding from the media; to name a few examples.
As she prepares for a European promotional tour for her book, she is saddled with another unwanted assistant by her publisher. Lillian “Lily” Linden-Smith has little left to lose as she pulls into the driveway of the author her uncle has arranged for her to accompany. Her parents financial misdealing and the ensuing circus of a trial left her with nothing that couldn’t be packed into a car. Despite being cleared of all culpability, one cable news host refuses to leave Lily alone. She hopes that the more time she spends under the radar, with a new look, will increase the chances that she will be able to finally move on.
Their first meeting follows the usual song and dance. Nicole is stiff and (for me, at least) frustratingly removed from emotion by her constant application of Spock-like logic. This behavior on her part is understandable; she hasn’t yet accepted all of herself. It’s easier to keep emotion at arm’s length than to acknowledge it exists. It bothers her that Lily immediately develops an easy rapport with her mother and sister. No matter how Nicole acts, Lily resolves to keep the job. She needs it, for more reason than one. I enjoyed how they challenge each other. If Lily hadn’t such strong motivation to keep her job as Nicole’s assistant, would she have stayed on? It’s hard to say. Though, with a boss that constantly asks you to provide proof for every statement you make and feels as likeable as devil’s club, you would think that Lily would tell her boss to take that job and shove it. The changes that happen between them are incremental. There were times when they kept missing each other’s cues,
that I felt like:
However, Nicole doesn’t want to compromise their professional relationship by making a pass that she is sure would be unwelcome. She sees Lily’s feminine dress as a hetero statement. Such is the invisibility that femme lesbians struggle with…
Over the course of their weeks abroad, Lily displays her skill with languages and comfort with different cultures, as well as managing a tough itinerary. The two women are attracted to each other, but resist acting on it. Neither are the wiser to their shared dilemma. However, events conspire to bring the women close, both emotionally and intellectually. Nicole faces the choice of casting off Cole and embracing herself completely. Lily takes her past head on, with Nicole at her side. It’s a satisfying journey that emerges on the other side with both women ready for whatever comes.
The story is skillfully handled by Kathleen Roche-Zujko. crafting a distinct cast of characters. This production provides quality, enjoyable narration through great pacing, tone, and characterization. Roche-Zujko enriches the text by vocalizing the layers of change in identity that the characters experience. She embodies Nicole, raising her pitch, and then lowering it slightly for when she goes out as Cole. Indira, Nicole’s mother, immigrated to the United States from India before her daughters were born. Her voice is accented with the countries she has lived in and with motherly interest. Roche-Zujko does a fine job with the Indian and European accents. Of all the characters, I found Kate, Nicole’s younger sister, annoying. It was a combination of the woman’s whiny personality and the narrator’s talent at embodying her through nasally delivery and tone that carried it off so well.