I don’t read much in the realm of romance (no disrespect to the genre, just not for me) but I made an exception when looking for a book to read during an indulgent post-pandemic vacation. (I know, the pandemic is not over, but so far this summer feels like a reprieve and a step toward how things used to be.) And The Companion (2021) by EE Ottoman fit the bill for a breezy, escapist vacation read.
The plot is straightforward–Madeleine Slaughter, physically and spiritually depleted by rejection from an an insular 1940s New York literary scene, takes a job out of the city as companion to Victor, a successful writer. As she becomes romantically entangled with Victor, she also falls for Audrey, his neighbor and ex-lover. Healing and artistic reinvigoration occurs as Madeleine pursues liaisons with Victor and Audrey. I kept waiting for a major secret or plot complication, but the only hiccup in Madeleine’s plan for a polyamorous relationship with Victor and Audrey is whether the two exes can mend fences and share Madeleine–or better yet, reignite their own affair.
As the Content Notes describe, The Companion “depicts a polyamorous relationship between two transgender women and a transgender man,” although the characters themselves do not use this terminology. Indeed, other than occasional references by Madeleine to wearing a suit and using “the dreaded boy’s name” in the past, the characters in The Companion accept themselves and each other with little hand-wringing over gender identity. It shouldn’t be remarkable or noteworthy that a book featuring trans characters focuses on romance between the characters rather than trans identity in itself–but it is. The novel is unique in its combination of warmth and friendship coupled with erotic spiciness and heat.