I mentioned that I'm reading The Shape of Desire, by Sharon Shinn. I'm almost done, and I'd say this is probably a B-list Shinn book, but that's not an anti-recommendation. I think her real-world-based books tend to be a little less rich, a little less encompassing than her books set in other worlds, like Samaria or the world of The Safe-Keeper's Secret.
I'd call this a domestic fantasy, actually. It's about the life of a woman named Maria, an accountant in St. Louis. The book revolves around the fact that her boyfriend of many years--her lover, her life partner--is a shape shifter. His transformations have a pattern, which he can't control, and he's out of her life more often than she's in it. There's a plot, a structure, a mystery, and some tension, but really, this is a story about being a strong, independent woman who is so passionately in love with someone that her life is shaped around him, even when that is hard and unsatisfying.
It's also a story about secrets, and how we keep them and why. And it's about the ugly things we put up with and do for love. These themes are a bit heavy-handed sometimes--the battered wife coworker, the office gossip about a secret affair--but the characters aren't heavy-handed at all, and I think that's what makes the book.
Maria's responses to the things that happen are familiar and understandable, but they're not cliche. People who love each other have arguments that don't ominously foreshadow something; people who admire their friends are also annoyed by them; people who are keeping secrets carefully tell them, and then regret their moment of weakness. The breadth of believable experience here gives a texture to the story that fiction doesn't always get as it moves quickly from one event to another or lingers over lavish descriptions.
I think the most intriguing thing about this book is the extent to which it feels to me like it was written as a response to Twilight. I have no idea if this is true (and, for the record, I read only the first book in that series and really didn't love it)--maybe it's a whole "In Love With a Monster" genre. It really feels like Shinn sat down to write about what life would really be like if you loved someone who was not fully human. How would his other life affect you? How would you live in the world on a day to day basis? Would you be lonely? Scared? What would it be like to have a whole life built on a relationship that is about passion and distance, where you can never have as much of each other as you'd want? I love the reversal of the Destined Romance and Passion That Knows No Bounds that she brings here, and I'm thrilled with her for thinking to do it.
There will be a sequel, according to her website: Still Life With Shape Shifter, coming out this fall. It's about the sister of a shape shifter, and I wonder what themes it will address. I can't quite imagine, but as I've said, the author relationship is about trust, and I trust Sharon Shinn with my precious reading time.
One more exciting bit of Sharon Shinn news: her next book will be a sequel to Troubled Waters. I'm really excited about that--this one I'll buy on day one. Sometime next year. Sigh.