joreth: (polyamory)
Based on Poly Weekly episode 516: The Art of Three, I bought the book of the same name. This episode is an interview with Racheline Maltese, who wrote a polyamorous romance novel that does NOT include a couple opening up their relationship for the first time and does NOT include unicorn hunters finding their hot, bi, cis-woman love slave / nanny.
It does, however, include some hot bi men, which is automatically a plus for me.

I only just started the book, so I can't give a full review, but I already like that it's not unicorn hunting, it's not "opening up", it's not written for the literature version of the straight male gaze, and the characters don't seem to do the usual irritating-as-fuck foolishness stemming from typical monogamous culture habits like poor communication and objectification.

The authors, Erin McRae and Racheline Maltese, seem to actually know polyamory (and judging by some forum comments, there are self-identified poly people who nevertheless don't understand polyamory, so them understanding it says more about them than just calling them "poly"). The characters are self-aware, have decent communication skills, are respectful of agency, and still manage to have their own personalities, flaws, and foibles. They're not perfect, and they still make mistakes, but they don't make *rookie* mistakes. And even more importantly, they don't make *monogamous people who don't get polyamory* mistakes.

The polyamory seems to go pretty smoothly, at least so far. I have criticized movies and TV shows that make relationships look too easy and that skip over all the hard stuff where everyone just seems to magically be naturally good at relationships. But sometimes I just really need a story where the conflict and plot isn't related to the character's relationship skills. Sometimes I just need them to be decent at relationships so that I don't have to constantly yell at fictional characters that things don't have to be as difficult as they're making them.

Here are some of my reactions while reading it:

  • The book has a tense discussion where the authors, through the wife's character, acknowledge an unfair distribution of Emotional Labor along gender lines! They also make the male characters self-aware enough to be bothered by it when it occurs to them that they do not carry enough of the responsibility or the skill for this labor.
     
  • Love it. The Art of Three points out the sexism inherent in constantly asking if the husband is OK with the boyfriend sleeping with the wife or sharing their "marriage bed" or staying in "their" house, but never asked the same questions of the husband about the wife.

    The book points out that this is behaving as though she is her husband's property and notes the boyfriend's chagrin at the criticism, thereby implying that he is not intending to be sexist and does not wish to be sexist, but is nevertheless a product of his culture and participates in sexist assumptions even against his own better nature.

    To be fair, the boyfriend did ask the wife if she really did have an open marriage and really was OK with him sleeping with her husband for the first time. But he makes a bigger deal out of being in the husband's "place", like their shared bed or "his chair" at the dinner table in their home, when these thoughts never occurred to him about the wife when he was with the husband in their other shared home.

    The boyfriend does handle the criticism well and seeks to change.
     
  • The Art of Three also captures the weight that a long-term marriage has which presses down on newcomers. It reminds the reader of the gravitas that a preexisting relationship imposes on new partners through the boyfriend's occasional insecurity and his constant reminders to himself that he needs to be "respectful" of their marriage, as well as through the married couple's deliberate and conscious decisions to mitigate that weight whenever possible.

    That second part of that reminds the reader of the solidness of a preexisting relationship without enabling any couple privilege such as implying that this solidness and heaviness is as it should be or showing the established couple feeling or presenting as entitled to such privileges.

    These authors also avoided enabling couple privilege by not making the established couple suffer petty bouts of insecurity at the NRE or feeling "threatened" by a newcomer.



    So, if you're looking for a book that shows polyamory in a positive light, written by people who *get* polyamory, doesn't follow the single most overused and irritating trope in all of poly storytelling, and doesn't spend a whole lot of time dragging the characters through Poly 101 Drama, I'd recommend checking out The Art of Three.

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