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RED HOT BOOK OF THE WEEK: Love Slave by Jennifer Spiegel

In her debut novel, Jennifer Spiegel tells the story of three young people trying to make it in New York while learning to balance who they really are with their self-images and dreams.

Love Slave by Jennifer Spiegel

January 1995: The Laundromat. Thirty-year-old Sybil Weatherfield declares to a cute guy she’s just met that this will be her last year in New York; she doesn’t want to grow old in the city.

She is totally taken aback when Rob Shachtley, lead singer for a Village band, challenges her to stop procrastinating and just leave. But Sybil knows she can’t because New York is her “internal state of mind made external.” Besides, she has her weekly column.

Although being a temp pays the bills, Sybil’s self-identity is tied up in her article for the weekly New York Shock, the “other Village newspaper.” Her column, “Abscess,” oozes her mental ramblings, sometimes veering too close to TMI. She’s also obsessed with the city’s freaks. Although her personality prevents her from getting her own brow piercing, Sybil is fascinated by those who are brave enough to be nonconformists.

Rob, who juggles being a caterer with bar gigs with the band, has his own issues. Although widowed for seven years, he hasn’t yet stripped off his wedding ring and still sings about his wife. Yet, when he meets Sybil, he admits to being a fan of “Abscess” and asks her out. Sybil deflects him, thinking about her tenuous ties to her respectable boyfriend, and suggests they just be friends.

Jennifer Spiegel’s Love Slave follows Sybil over the course of a pivotal year in her journey to self-discovery. Alternating between Sybil’s relationships with Madeline (her best friend), Rob, and her columns for New York Shock, Spiegel paints a vivid picture of Manhattan in the 1990s and what it was like for young people trying to hit it big in the big city.

Like many on the brink of true adulthood, Sybil has a difficult time recognizing the differences between her fantasies and what will truly make her happy; between what she imagines she wants and what she really wants. She dreams of romance, but, as she says herself, her life is all about being a temp. She does her thing and does it well but hopes to get more from the job than it gets from her. It’s only when she takes the time to see other people’s realities and choices that Sybil learns the key to happiness may lie beyond image, selfishness and the temporary.

Don’t be thrown off by the title of Jennifer Spiegel’s debut novel. Love Slave is neither a venture into S&M nor a fluffy look at contemporary love. It’s a smart examination of a young writer’s metamorphosis into maturity.

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