Most of us are already well aware of the term polygamy. Unfortunately, the image it often brings to mind is that of the white trash bigamist that the media so delights in exploiting, and the psuedo-religious justifications for why he deserves multiple wives. Similarly, most of use are very familiar with the term swinger, but the image that comes to mind there is either that of a 60s drug-fuelled orgy, or a contemporary XXX stag-film gangbang.
A term we likely aren't so well aware of however - and which is at the root of An expanded love - is polyamory. The best way I can define that for you is, quite simply, the freedom to love, and to be loved . . . and isn't that lovely concept?
This is a story that's all about love, affection, intimacy, and emotional happiness. It's a story about expanded relationships, with men and women loving one another freely, without prejudice, and without commitment. There's a wonderful recurring image in the book where one family has a chalkboard in the bathroom that traces all of the family's expanded relationships. It's like some crazy molecular model, with circles everywhere and lines intersecting, except it's really a relationship tree. At the centre is a couple (one male, one female), with the people they love (male and female for each) radiating outwards, and intersecting with their own loves.
What this is not is a story that's all about sex and physical gratification. The love here is sweet, tender, romantic, and almost innocent (albeit, in a non-traditional context). There are a few bedroom scenes, a few of them quite erotic, but they're not the focus of the story. Instead, the focus is on kissing, hugging, cuddling, and just being together. In fact, the bedroom scene that returned to mind every time I closed the book was that of three lovers, lying in bed, fully clothed, having fallen asleep in one another's arms. Overall, polyamory is such a warn a wonderful concept, and one that is likely to make readers think about the arbitrary definitions we create to separate friends from lovers.
That's not to say the book is all sunshine and happiness. Jacqueline doesn't shy away from exploring the prejudices of society, and the dysfunctional elements of the families we're born into (as opposed to those into which we choose to enter). There are a few scenes of violence here, with homosexuality and polyamory the targets, and there's a very tragic sub-plot involving a polyamorous lesbian and the arranged marriage into which she's being forced by her family. Fortunately, while the book has its struggles and its tensions, the resolutions offered to these darker elements are sufficient to provide hope of happiness, if not to guarantee happiness itself. In fact, if the fate of Nadia's controlling ex-boyfriend doesn't make you smile, then your heart is most definitely not pumping!
As intrigued as I was by the concept of a polyamorous drama, I wasn't sure any author could really sell it, much less justify the concept at the heart of the story. What makes it work, and what draws the reader in, is the fact that Nadia struggles with the concept, even as she longs to embrace it. There are several instances where she writes herself diary entries from the future, assuring her it's okay to love, and I think they sum up the message here best of all.
This an amazing, ambitious novel that accomplishes precisely what it sets out to do - open our hearts, open our minds, and remind us of how wonderful it is to feel loved. If you're at all curious, but not sure whether you can handle a love story with multiple partners, please do yourself a favour and give it a chance . . . I daresay you won't regret it.