By Kris Faatz
Blue Moon Publishers, 2017
To Love A Stranger, the debut novel by Kris Faatz, presents a story full of love, shame, and of course, music. Sam is the newly hired conductor for the Richmond Symphonic Artists under a world of pressure and Jeannette the accompanist from a small, southern town who tries to hide her origins as much as she can; what unfolds after Jeanette and Sam meet sends them into a complicated and delicate love story. Both characters find their way into each other’s lives while struggling to hide their identities, and what comes after challenges their sense of self, their insecurities, and their families.
Sam dreams of “having” a chorus and symphony is shadowed by a friend’s voice in his head. This voice is Gil, who we slowly meet through memories, phone calls, and visits. Gil is a little more than a friend of Sam’s. As Sam and Jeanette learn about each other and fall into a relationship fueled by admiration and passion, they are slowly entangled in one another. Through love, denial, and estrangement, their relationship spirals and effects the lives of everyone around them.
To Love A Stranger so beautifully tackles identity, illness, family conflicts, and the sentiment of the 80s and 90s. The time period accentuates the characters’ need to hide their true selves and fit into societal norms. Through this musical journey, the lives of Sam and Jeannette unfold before us; they learn things, grow into different people and all while music acts their safety net. These characters look for salvation in each other, and that is a dangerous balance. The author reveals things to us, not only about the characters, but about the nature of love, and the intricacies of family, and safety. The style, plot, and content allows the story to slowly unravel before our eyes: we learn slowly of these characters and the story feels all the more authentic because of it.
To Love A Stranger is about exactly what it claims: loving a stranger. The story is told through subtlety and refusing to admit what we are most afraid of until it is too late. The characters don’t dare admit their greatest fears, even to us, yet we know exactly what they are. The pace, although slow at times, elongates the tension and allows us to get our bearings in the story.
Through this third-person double narrative, we learn about the characters in a way they don’t even know each other; we know they’re secrets, their hopes, and their fears. This tension teeters on the edge of collapse, and throughout the novel, we invest ourselves in the characters, hope for them, fear for them, and ultimately, feel with them. Though Sam and Jeanette story’s can be agonizing at times, it’s a vital one and provides a fullness in return that will leave you satisfied.