I've read all of Mary Ann Rivers and Ruthie Knox's previous books, but I really didn't know what to expect from The Dark Space. I particularly didn't know if Brain Mill Press's "love books for humans" could actually satisfy my romance loving heart.
The Dark Space is the story of Cal and Winnie, college seniors at a nameless smallish midwestern liberal arts college. Winnie is a wallflower, quietly observing but not belonging, bitter that all the things she wanted to happen and expected to happen to her at college never have.
Cal is a skinny, pushy professor's kid, too at home on campus, killing time till graduation and his dream of aimless slacker life in California. For their last semester they are both taking an extremely popular elective open only to seniors, Contact Improv, colloquially known around campus as "the Make-out class". Cal is eager, obnoxiously so, for the opportunities this class might give him. Winnie is reluctant and skeptical. The class is and is not what they expect it to be but it transforms them. The story takes a metaphysical/woo turn, when Cal and Winnie's energies collide and they become somewhat psychically linked, able to transmit their desires to each other. This bond, that Winnie terms The Dark Space, draws them toward each other, and other people. Their exploration of that magic, of its boundaries, its mutability, its permanence becomes the spark of their love story.
I'm in love with Cal Darling, and my love isn't beautiful or good in itself, but our love will lead us to beauty and truth. Our love will be the helper of our better natures.
Plato said it.
Professor Darling said it.
But what matters is that when I said it, Calvin Darling said yes.
The Dark Space veered off well-trod romance paths to become a different kind of story but I still enjoyed it for the most part. Although the story has a romantic arc, it did not feel like a romance, even if the climax of the story was a climax. It was really a story about self-discovery and self-love fueled by a love affair.
While Cal and Winnie are together happily at the end of the story, that was not the HEA. The HEA is the transformation they have experienced, the assurance Cal and Winnie have within themselves about how to move through life & the joy they have chosen to experience together.
The Dark Space occasionally got too woo and abstract for me, with its talk of energies, and inner lights and reflections on the nature of love. I was turned off by how privileged Winnie and Cal are in their college experience and how little acknowledgement of that is given by Rivers and Knox even when Cal and Winnie continually reflect on their college experience.
The Dark Space does captures well the fantasy of the final college semester, of a time that is supposed to be both the ending something and the beginning something and people search for ways to make it meaningful.
My favorite part of the whole book was Becky Mailer Darling. Becky is Cal's mom, who tells somewhat uncomfortable, somewhat awkward yet tender comforting stories. No one in the book really deserves how much she loves them, and I was a little heartbroken when she breezily summarizes her somewhat painful life, into brief paragraph. I wanted to pick her up out of this story and give her a better one.
In the end The Dark Space was an interesting, somewhat challenging book that had a stronger romantic arc than I expected.
I received a review copy of The Dark Space from Brain Mill Press.