Second Best Fantasy is the story of Maggie O’Leary, a hard partying (but lonely) lesbian infatuated with the lovely Janine Jordan, a bisexual rock star. Set in the 90s, it definitely has the taste of a social transition from 80s excess to 90s grunge, which serves the narrative itself very well.
Like Angela’s first book, Unavailable, addiction plays a significant role here, almost becoming a character in itself. Even as things seem to be progressing personally and professionally for the two lovers, their inability to slay their demons with drugs and alcohol casts a gloomy pall over their lives. You want to believe in a happily-ever-after, but you’re also afraid of being disappointed.
Despite that looming uncertainty, I thought the relationship between the two women was handled very well, with a realistic progression from groupie/star to friend/lover. Although she can be a bit annoying at times, I liked the honesty of Maggie’s voice as a narrator. She does come across as a bit brash and arrogant at times, with an unhealthy dose of 80s self-absorption, but when she lets her guard down we see the hurt, wounded, uncertain woman inside.
I must warn you, the ending is definitely bleak, contrasting the power of love with the power of addiction. Unable to quit for themselves, Maggie and Janine struggle to overcome their separate addictions for the other’s sake, to rescue not themselves, but their relationship. Fortunately, I share Maggie’s stubborn streak, so I choose to believe that her final scene is not an ending, but a new beginning. It’s easier to read it the other way, though, which makes for not only a sad ending, but a frustrating one as well.