The Thorn and the Blossom: A Two-Sided Love Story

Thorn and the Blossom

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This much is certain: Theodora Goss’ The Thorn and the Blossom: A Two-Sided Love Story is an interesting book. I’ve never really read one like it. It’s a text where its central idea is also its star, where a formal experiment powers the incidental characters and situations around it. I don’t think it’s especially successful, but it certainly gives readers something to think about.

The Thorn and the Blossom, as its subtitle implies, is literally two-sided — readers can choose to read a 40-page retelling of three important events in a decades-long romance with legendary undertones from the perspective of either the male lover (Brendan) or the female lover (Evelyn). When you’re done with one story, you can start the book over from the back and read it again from another viewpoint thanks to clever accordion-style binding. While I appreciate the thought that went into this volume, though, in practice it becomes just a bit unwieldy… you’ve got to properly brace the book with both hands at all times (or read it with the thing sitting on a flat surface) in order to proceed smoothly. Still, I give Quirk Books real points for the experiment.

Unfortunately, the content of the story doesn’t live up to the promises of its form. It’s tough to be very thoughtful about love in two 40-page installments, I imagine, especially when you’ve got about 20 years of history to cover, but even given those limitations The Thorn and the Blossom presents an especially facile reading of what we’re meant to believe is the continuation of an epic romance that literally stretches back to Arthurian times and beyond. We’re never really made to feel along with these characters, we’re just meant to accept how they’re feeling. In fact, the text telling instead of showing is a problem throughout. For instance, about halfway through Brendan’s story he narrates that he can be “overbearing,” but there’s no evidence of it at all to that point; judging from the monologue we’ve gotten, he’s bookish and restrained, quite the opposite. That’s problematic because such a short love story needs to be especially potent — it’s got to sell us on its characters’ chemistry right away, then leave us feeling something of our own. But instead of caring at all for the emotions here, I found myself far more caught up in the metaphysical and metatextual aspects of the book.

And because it’s the constructed ideas, not the felt emotion, that takes center stage in Blossom, this book is unfortunately very one-sided. Through and through, Evelyn’s story is where it’s at. Partway into her tale we learn that occasionally throughout her life she’s cursed with mythological visions. It’s these fourth wall-breaking segments that really cement this book’s grander themes and connections to classic literature. Though Brendan is a college student/professor who studies such things, his story serves only to provide some background to the real meat of the tale, which we can garner almost completely from Evelyn’s more interesting side of things (it should be noted I read Brendan’s account first, and it contains almost none of the supernatural elements this book needs to sell its themes).

Given my own literary interests, I find the idea that two people might be trapped in a story written a millennium ago to be supremely fascinating. Unfortunately, I can’t say the same about three chance encounters of starcrossed lovers over two decades, at least not the way they’re presented here. In my experience, love is far, far more than locking eyes with someone and being overwhelmed with feeling. It can start there, but until you really get into the emotional trenches with someone that’s just infatuation, and that’s all I see between Evelyn and Brendan, this book’s attempts to convince me otherwise notwithstanding. That said, it would be a fine young adult story (if YA readers are anything like me, any kind of formal experiment is one worth devouring) were it not for the strange softcore porn interlude partway through Brendan’s story. As it stands, I’m not sure what the intended audience is for this book, but I know it isn’t me. The framework’s solid, but the execution just feels empty. Maybe that in itself says something about love, but I’m not sold.

tags: the thorn and the blossom, theodora goss

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