If you’ve ever read one of Linda Meigel’s books before, and you really should, then you know that one of their underlining facts is that they dabble in the strange. Stories can run the gambit of time travel, preventing the future, government conspiracies, and astral projection threeways…yes, that’s something that has actually happened. Meigel’s books give us ordinary characters and throw them into situations that seem so far-fetched and unorthodox yet throughout all this she never loses sight of what makes her characters tick. Every story Linda Meigel has written, despite how strange, has always been about servicing her characters. They are the core of her story and like any good writer, Meigel celebrates them and how they respond to a little dose of strange.
The strangest thing about her newest novel, The Love Trunk, is how normal it is. There is no time travel. There are no government conspiracies. And there certainly aren’t any astral projection threeways. That’s not to say that the story isn’t unorthodox, it wouldn’t be a Linda Meigel book if it wasn’t, but that strangeness that has sold so many of her other novels works in a different way here. The Love Trunk chooses to tell a story about the core of love and how we as people, particularly men, respond to the notion. Can one love too much? Does one actually understand what love is? Does love define you as a person past, present, or future?
There’s no denying that the topic of love is pretty heavy. When you think about it it’s what we all strive for in life. Whether it’s with another human or a pet, we all want to experience some form of love in our lives. The Love Trunk gives us two characters in John Beard and Ben (the narrator) who are sort of mirror images of themselves in the ways that they may not actually grasp what love is. Have you ever tried to define love? It’s pretty difficult, yet Beard and Ben seem to have these concepts of what love is. They project feelings on to a person but somewhere along the line, they lose sight that there’s an actual person underneath these projections.
Ben is in a bit of a pickle having been with his girlfriend around thirteen years. Ben describes himself as a non-romantic, only pulling the hearts and flowers three days a year, and it limits his way of thinking. It’s not that Ben doesn’t understand what romance is but he believes he’s incapable of it. It’s this reasoning that brings him to his proposal. It’s been thirteen years what is the next logical step? Ben gets the idea to write the Valentine’s Day column in the local paper, something that everyone in town looks forward to, in order to springboard the most romantic proposal possible. A proposal that rings hollow as it’s not coming from a genuine place. Ben is a non-romantic and he’s a fool, but it takes his conversations with John Beard for him to understand that.
You see, John Beard has a story to tell. A story about a love that burns hot and can’t maintain the fire. Some would call that lust. Beard, a much older man dying of cancer, taking the time to reflect back on his life considers it the greatest love of his life completely disregarding his second wife. John proceeds to tell Ben the story of his first wife, Charlie, and the love that burned and the fire that spread. From here though the story becomes a Linda Meigel story. There’s a twist, there always is, as the book maintains the narrative that it was built on (seriously, no astral projection) but takes a darker road. It’s here, within the twist, that Meigel completely destroys her readers. By this point, you’re so in enamored by Ben’s easy-going conversational tone that you, much like Ben, fail to realize there’s no going back. Why would you want to though?
The strength of The Love Trunk is it’s cast. Ben and John create sort of a perverse Tuesdays With Morrie type vibe. These two men are mirror images of each other and Meigel plays on this beautifully. You kind of watch as the narrative unfolds and Ben becomes a bit more self-aware, but the greater questions arise, what can be done about it? And that’s the true beauty of The Love Trunk, are we all victims of who we think we are? Are we always doomed to be the person that we’ve become or is there hope that we can change? Is everything set in stone or can we actually realize our faults and find a way to create the best you?
Meigel’s words flow effortlessly through the mouth of Ben and paint a picture of a small town in Anywhere, USA. The narrative is inviting and warm and speaks to us as if we know who Flo is or as if we’ve gone to a mass on Sunday with the rest of the townsfolks. Everything about Serenity is so normal and quaint that it’s the darkness that lies beneath that creeps slowly in. The Love Trunk may not contain the strangeness that we know from Linda Meigel novels, but maybe that’s the trick. Maybe that’s what makes this book strange? The topic of love is strange enough, does the story need more? Well, it does have that twist…
The Love Trunk is Linda Meigel at her best and with four books comprising her library (you can find them all on Amazon) one can’t help but be excited for what comes next. Who doesn’t love a little bit of strange after all.