Amanda Gernentz Hanson’s debut novel is not what it might seem on outside, much like how most people live their lives, go about their business, and love their loves. This story explores the fact that love is not easily defined by psychologists, the dictionary, religious texts or even the beholder.
Just as in life, love can start as one thing, turn into another, and it can stay the same and yet be different…all at the same time. Caging the heart remains the quest of humankind both throughout history and even within our literature…and yet here we are, hearts still wide open to love as well as to the eventual pain. Just like the complicated love found between classic literary figures such as Cathy and Heathcliff, Declan and Cordelia – while not quite as complicated as some of our gothic favorites – is still found to be…”complicated.” But complicated does not mean “wrong” or “less than” or “disingenuous.”
Without giving too much away, this is the modern kind of story that needs to be told. It is too easy to tell (or read about) the traditional story of boy meets girl, boy loves girl, boy marries girl, boy and girl have a family. It’s too easy to address homosexuality, confusion, and the different kinds of attractions we feel toward other human beings with some subtle twist at the end or with the perennial endearing and supportive gay best friend as the side show of some other story altogether. Hanson’s book takes a challenging and deeply confusing situation, which has been faced in one way or another throughout time by countless people, and forces it out into the open.
Something Beautiful touches on a couple of darker issues, like teenaged depression and self mutilation, but the protagonists’ battle is strictly about love. Underlying every battle, whether it’s someone wrestling with homosexual attractions or someone wrestling with some other “thing” which tries so desperately to paint “love” in a certain perfect life affirming color – at the root, this is what most of them are about. Loving others, loving ourselves, romantic love, platonic love, motherly love, love of God, love of country…and so on.
In the end, when the dust settles from the inevitable brutality that is “life,” whether in a fictional story like this novel or in the harsh realities facing individual people every day…isn’t it all simply about making and experiencing something beautiful?