What would you be willing to do in order to secure the health of your mother, your child, your love? Reyna Putnam has sold her soul to the proverbial devil to guarantee that her terminally ill mother has the best care that her father's money can buy. Grip Putnam, the result of generations of politically powerful men, is determined to be President of the United States. Thus he carefully controls his media image as a conservative radio pundit as well as the image of his family. His only surviving child, Reyna is part of that image; a lesbian daughter is not. Reyna walks a careful tight rope, trying to maintain her sanity, and some self identity while she continues personally abhorrent work that keeps her father paying those health bills.
Holly Markham has spent most of the 16 years since her mother's death in an accident, hiding. She hides her body in multiple layers of clothing that reflect her need for self-protection from people who should be her allies in life as well as her self-denial.
But Holly has just done something extraordinary. She quit her job in protest because a coworker has been fired for being an out lesbian. Holly quit her job because it was the right thing to do. This righteous act snowballs as Holly finds herself questioning her eight year relationship with Clay, an older, male, college instructor who is controlling and critical, and her feelings about a host of other issues. In a matter of weeks Holly's life will change completely as she discovers several surprises about her mother, her early childhood and herself.
Kallmaker's characterization, humor and story telling skills continue to develop with each novel she writes. Substitute for Love may be her best book to date. --Although part of me continues to prefer her scifi/fantasy titles written as Laura Adams, this is like the difference between Cherry Garcia and Chunky Monkey. Both are good. It depends on your mood and taste. -- Kallmaker gives us a glimpse at the mind of a mathematician through Holly's thought process. She points out the frustrating futility that our nation's health care system creates for people who are not independently wealthy. Yet she pokes fun at the liberal Clay's touting of "a simple life" without understanding the trade off in human labor, supplied by Holly for eight years, required to achieve it.
The Putnam Institute, located in Orange County, California, is symbolic of several extreme right-wing political groups in the area. Kallmaker uses its work to address a number of methods similar groups employ in their campaign against homosexuality, i.e., fund-raising, "ex-gay" therapy, and the hypocrisy of people who pass. Kallmaker manages to address all these issues without interrupting the romance or seeming "too busy." Kallmaker even manages to give readers hope that the socio-political wave the right has been riding may have already crested.
Kallmaker is dependable for highly erotic scenes that will leave the reader warm and dreamy. The action between Holly and Reyna is no exception to this skill. Substitute for Love is a keeper. One that I expect to read more than once.