Here at Sugar HQ we were sent a copy of Julie Buxbaum's novel The Opposite of Love kinda out of nowhere, which was fine by me because I ultimately found it to be a refreshing take on the "young professional Manhattanite struggles with her job, family and love life!" story that seems to be churned out by the thousands. And now it looks like some folks at Twentieth Century Fox were perhaps on the same mailing list, as they just optioned the rights to make The Opposite of Love into a movie.
The story is told from the viewpoint of Emily Haxby, a 29-year-old lawyer living in New York who experiences a paralyzing fear of commitment and breaks up with her longtime boyfriend Andrew just before he proposes to her.
At first glance, I had to roll my eyes, thinking this might be yet another whitewashed version of "living the high life in New York City" in which everyone's job is glamorous and fun, the friendships are always easy and all the protagonist's troubles spin out of her romantic misadventures which she obsesses over ad nauseum. That fluffy stuff can be fun, but these days I just crave something a little more interesting. Thankfully, The Opposite of Love surprised me in how, well, opposite it is. To find out what I mean, read more.
Emily's job is far from glamorous; it's soul-crushing on a day-to-day basis and rife with sexual harassment. In fact, she makes some bold decisions about her career that not everyone would make (and certainly not the money-hungry protagonists of many NYC-set novels) and that make me want to cheer. Her inner life is a jumbled knot of conflicting emotions. Having lost her mother to cancer as a teenager, she's wary of love and commitment. Her relationship with her father is distant at best, often leaving her feeling alone. Her closest relative is her grandfather who is slowly succumbing to Alzheimer's, which only intensifies her sense of loneliness. She deeply craves advice and support from her elders (especially an older ex-judge named Ruth who lives next door to Emily's grandfather), and sometimes receives it. After all this, her romantic situation is like a tragic casualty of her inner turmoil, which is just plain sad — but at the same time relateable and wonderfully realistic.
The best part: it's funny. Not fall-down-guffawing funny, but wry and self-aware and silly and sarcastic. I really came to care about Emily Haxby and wished we could be friends in real life. It's not the most powerful piece of literature ever, and I think your enjoyment of it will depend on your feelings toward Emily, but because I liked her so much, The Opposite of Love was a great read. It's light enough for the beach, but interesting and "real" enough to keep you invested. It'll make a good movie, but it's worth reading before you see Emily on the big screen.