Tom Avery enjoys women to excess.
First, there is the abundance of mothers who tended to his care. Twenty-seven, to be exact. Oh, sure, only one actually gave birth to him, but he is a true product of getting raised by a village. Prior to turning forty, he went through three wives. Ever the optimist, he knows there will be a fourth.
Fellow Winnipegian Fay McLeod isn’t even sure she knows how to love, much less do so in such a hyperbolic state as Tom. What she does know, most resolutely, is that the man she has dated and lived with and been partnered to for five years – with whom she owns a condo – is not someone she wants to live with any longer. Their relationship has run its course, and Fay wants to end it.
Despite having quite a few friends in common, Tom and Fay have not met. He, a midnight disc jockey, frequents singles meetings, ostensibly because he knows his judgment in selecting the future Mrs. Tom needs some tweaking, but actually as a way to meet women. She is a folklorist who specializes in studying mermaids. They may know the same people, but their paths do not cross.
But of course they eventually do. Tom is immediately smitten and is determined to express his love and passion. Fay, completely unaccustomed to such a quick rush of intense feelings, is relieved to be headed to Europe for research; she wants to take advantage of this time to make sense of how she feels. When she receives a passionate love letter from Tom, she wonders if she loves him too.
Fay eventually returns home, and she and Tom begin to discover, appraise, create, and revise their relationship. Theirs truly is a case of opposites attracting, and it frightens Fay, much more than it does Tom. After all, he’s already had three wives and nearly thirty mothers. He greedily and eagerly embraces the optimism of love, whereas Fay’s reticence and fear convince her that love – whatever that may be – is temporal at best. Is she practical or fatalistic? Is Tom naive or addicted to the rush?
Carol Shields approaches these questions by making us slowly fall in love with Tom and Fay. He’s like an overgrown puppy, so full of enthusiasm and affection that you can see why he’s maintained good relationships with his exes (for the most part). His feelings for Fay are genuine and not at all something he wishes to hide or tamper down. It’s love! Real love! So what’s life all about if not feeling love and sharing love and giving love and making love? Fay would respond that life is for living in moderation, and where love is concerned, one must approach with skepticism and realism. They call it “falling” in love for a reason, Fay believes, because eventually you hit the ground and it all ends. She is more difficult to like than Tom, but yet her temperance is appealing. We understand her, even though we wish we were more enthusiastic like Tom.
The Republic of Love, then, is not a dictatorship. It’s a democracy, wherein each of us lives with our own definitions, constructs, and appreciations of love, where we are free to express and experience our feelings, even when others don’t share them. Can Fay and Tom find their way together? Can he soothe her fears while she moderates his exuberance?
Read and find out. You won’t regret it.