A slow burn literary fiction about the relationship between an author and his #1 fan

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Can you imagine how it would feel to get close to your favorite author...to consider them a friend, a mentor...or even something more?

It's been many years, but Tatum is still reconciling her feelings about JUST such a situation. Years back, in New York City, she had the fortune/misfortune of building a relationship of sorts with the enigmatic, 'brilliant', Mateo (also known as M) Dominguez...and the two had a bond she still can't fully explain. Although life has taken her to Chile, and she is happily dating a woman named Vera, there's just something about the unfinished business of her past that pulls her back into her memories...and to leads her to reflect the messy, complicated nature of the relationship that helped to shape the woman she is today.

But when a reporter comes a-calling, asking for Tatum's corroboration on #MeToo related charges being filed against Dominguez, her reminiscing takes a different turn...and she's forced to revisit the complex, beautiful, and sometimes dark nature of the relationship between 'teacher' and student...and just HOW MUCH of what went on between them had an air of impropriety about it. How much was manipulation...and how much was pure affection? How could what started as a simple fan letter from adoring reader to adored writer turn into something impossible to deny? Was Tatum blind to her OWN manipulation then...AND will she still allow herself to gloss over the true nature of Mateo...even now?

Grooming, #MeToo, and stories of inappropriate relationships between teacher/student, fan/idol, and mentor/mentee are nothing new, but have certainly seen a resurgence in the literary landscape as of late. The exploration of power dynamics, and perhaps the even more sinister power of gaslighting and manipulation is not only a hot button issue in society, but is ripe for exploration on the page, as authors look to peel back the curtain on the dynamics between the manipulator and their prey, and of course to illuminate how EACH of these situations is far from black and white...at least, in the eyes of the characters. Books like the absolutely stunning My Dark Vanessa and others I've read in the past year or two, including My Last Innocent Year, have done this beautifully.

But when it came to this novel, it felt more like reading an essay that COULD have been really interesting...but was unfortunately missing a thesis sentence; I just couldn't fully grasp the point.

Villareal-Moura structures most of the novel as a letter from Tatum to Mateo, revisiting the events of their past in great detail, while cutting back to the present day in Chile intermittently. To be honest, I'm not really sure why much of the present day narrative was needed at all: we don't learn enough about Tatum's current partner, Vera, to be too invested in her, and the general #MeToo conversation and allegations with the other victim sort of play out in the background as well. Although it seemed clear from early on (at least, to me) that Mateo is Not the Greatest Guy, Tatum is just SO obsessed with his writing that she basically ignores all of his character flaws and leans into the hero worship. At first, I assumed this was going down the (somewhat obvious) path toward romantic entanglement, and it did....but only to an extent. This sort of incongruity made it very confusing as a reader to understand the conflict: it almost just seemed like Mateo was a friend that Tatum had an unhealthy amount of admiration for, rather than a participant in a 'leading' relationship that wasn't going to go anywhere...so it made it hard for ME to grasp why she couldn't just let it go.

This book is also on the slower side, which is always tough for me anyway...but throw in a plot with an ending that didn't seem to 'fit' the whole tone of the story, and it just felt like I'd spent a lot of time waiting to exhale rather than to breathe a sigh of satisfaction. I kept hoping that along the way something was going to happen to make me feel more connected to Tatum, but aside from her love of the Bell Jar, I didn't feel like we had too much in common...and frankly, the years didn't seem to have made her much wiser either. By the end of the book, I honestly didn't care if Mateo faced the consequences of his actions when it came to her or not. Outside of his literary prowess and blatant manipulation, there wasn't much there to like, and he didn't quite have the balance of likable-yet-detestable that is necessary for a character like this to be BELIEVABLE...and this left the third act conflict (and predictable behavior) unsatisfying.

And though I'd hoped to come out of this read feeling something 'like happiness'...I think what I felt was a lot more 'like' disappointment.

3.5 stars

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