"And love is a bond radiating from primaries to secondaries, tertiaries and beyond."
Humanity has an obsession with sorting itself into categories. Academic, athletic, tall, short, old, young… the sorting never ends. With these categories, inevitably comes stereotypes, certain kinds of people that we expect to see attached to each category, and ridicule if they do not.
Maiden Leap by CM Harris is an exploration of identity and relationships, the pressure to conform for the people you love, and the terrifying freedom of embracing who you truly are after a lifetime of denial.
The novel follows the relationship of high school flames Kate and Lucy, now with lovers and lives far removed from each other, and the shattering consequences of their romantic reunion. Their journey to acknowledge their sexuality and their deep connection grapples with Kate’s relationship with her husband, Eric, and her conservative in-laws.
Characters are introduced by their stereotypes and then peeled away to reveal their true selves, calling attention to the fact that humans are impossible to label. They are fluid and changing, multifaceted, with as many faces as a prism.
Kate is a middle-aged mom of two who enjoys quilting and tries to stay fit with yoga. She struggles to balance her progressive views with those of her conservative in-laws, hiding her bisexuality from her husband, her children, and herself.
Kate’s high school sweetheart, Lucy, is a “reformed” lesbian who was outrageous in her woman-loving youth and has adopted more sensible clothing as a church choir director. Like Kate, she has secrets kept behind her church lady facade.
The final piece of this triangle is Kate’s husband, Eric, who struggles to see things the way Kate does and vacillates between his wife and his mother.
But first impressions don’t tell the whole story. Harris takes our decisions on each character’s personality and adjusts or twists them entirely throughout her novel, teaching us a valuable lesson on grouping people that we meet and judging what we don’t understand.
Harris uses foil characters and subplots to chip away at the true faces of her main characters. Kate’s daughter Sam reminds Kate of herself, and Sam’s passion for social justice, combined with a healthy dose of curiosity, causes Sam to push Kate and Lucy for the truth about their relationship. Lucy’s double life and Kate’s vicarious sexual adventures through her friend Anita drive both of them to put aside their denial and admit their sexuality and mutual attraction. Eric, surrounded by conflict on all sides, has to decide if he can accept his wife as she is and what he will model for his children, especially his “mini-me”, Brick. This masterful use of foils and plots gives Maiden Leap a unique edge.
Humanity suffers from an insatiable need to categorize and exclude, struggles with the inability to accept the fluid, the box breakers. Some people don’t fit in boxes, and some people break boxes entirely. As a group, humans take those individuals and chisel away at them until they fit in, much the same way that the characters in Maiden Leap were forced by those around them to become people that they really weren’t. As those layers are peeled off, we understand the consequences of social and familial pressure and the freedom that comes with embracing your own identity.