BOOK REVIEW: 'Amo, amas, amat...An Unconventional Love Story': Perfectly Timed for 30th Anniversary of Discovery of HIV-AIDS

Reviewed by David M. Kinchen
BOOK REVIEW: 'Amo, amas, amat...An Unconventional Love Story': Perfectly Timed for 30th Anniversary of Discovery of HIV-AIDS
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood, and I -- / I took the one less traveled by, / and that has made all the difference. -- Robert Frost

Carter Taylor Seaton's  eBook "Amo, amas, amat...An Unconventional Love Story" (Amazon Digital Services  $7.99 delivered to your Kindle reader or tablet) appears during the 30th anniversary year of the discovery of HIV-AIDS, and it's a perfect introduction to the subject of gays and straights and how they can co-exist.

It's also a page-turner that can and should be enjoyed by everybody:  Northerners, Southerners, gays, straights, men, women. I mention the North-South divide because Seaton's novel is set in Asheville, NC and Atlanta, with side trips (by Nick Hamilton) to Charlotte, NC. There's a regional difference in the treatment by straights of gay men and lesbian women, with more tolerance north of the Mason-Dixon Line (with the  exception of gay friendly Key West, a notably tolerant place which has been jokingly  described as a drinking village with a fishing problem) and Seaton deals with this in her coverage of violence against gay men in 1980s Atlanta.
Carter Taylor Seaton
Carter Taylor Seaton

After a prologue set in Atlanta in 1988, the novel opens in 1983 Asheville, where 33-year-old Mary Cate Randolph still believes, against all evidence to the contrary, that a Prince Charming will come her way and rescue her from spinsterhood. Her sister, Bitty,  is happily married to an ambitious young lawyer, with two "perfectly formed -- but wretchedly behaved" children, and her mother, Abby, and her father, Howard, want a similar outcome to Mary Cate's life. 

The Randolph family is described by Mary Cate as Country Club Baptists -- as opposed to less tolerant Country Baptists -- but they're anything but gay and lesbian friendly. That goes double for homophobic Mary Cate, who at age 15 joined classmates in taunting a suspected gay boy in high school named Emmett Hubbard by calling him "Auntie Em" -- among other slurs. The boy later committed suicide.

At the Black Mountain Country Club Mary Cate meets Nick Christian Hamilton, who fits the description of Prince Charming to a "Shrek" T. He's blond, blue-eyed and tanned the way a tennis pro should be. Julia Ann Maxwell, Mary Cate's best friend, thinks that in the wake of her disastrous relationships -- including an affair with a professor at Agnes Scott College, their alma mater -- tennis pro Nick Hamilton looks like a winner.

Both women are operating with defective "gaydars" because Nick is deeply in the closet. His favorite hangout is The Blue Boy,  a gay bar in Charlotte, where he attended UNC-Charlotte, where he can let it all hang out with his friends Philip Preston and Race Gonzales, from his hometown of Cayce, a suburb of Columbia, SC.

After a dramatic scene at a country club dance, Nick and Mary Cate begin an affair that has life-changing consequences for both of them. I don't want to give away more of the plot of this gem of a novel, which I recommend to everyone looking for good reading. You may come away with a greater understanding of the qualities that make people with different sexuality good friends, especially when Mary Cate moves to Atlanta into a diverse close-to-downtown gentrifying neighborhood. Suffice it to say that the move transforms Mary Cate Randolph.

Born and raised in West Virginia, Carter Taylor Seaton's first novel, Father’s Troubles, was named as a finalist for the prestigious ForeWord Magazine 2003 Book of the Year award in the Historical Fiction category. She is also a regular contributor to numerous regional magazines and the West Virginia EncyclopediaIn 2007, her article on the impact of the back-to-the-land movement on West Virginia was featured in Appalachian Heritage literary journal and won the Denny C. Plattner Award for its Best Work of Non-fiction.  She is also an award-winning figurative ceramic sculptor. While living in Georgia, from 1985-1995, she began running and completed several marathons after she was fifty, including the Atlanta, Marine Corps, and New York City Marathons. For fifteen years, she directed a rural Appalachian craft cooperative to benefit low-income women. Ladies Home Journal nominated her in 1975 for its "Woman of the Year" award.