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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 800


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What is love? Smith’s novel poses the question, considers multiple answers, and then allows readers to decide for themselves.

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One possible answer is explored through Howard and Kiki’s relationship. They have been married for thirty years. They know and understand each other so well that a simple facial expression speaks volumes of information. They have similar senses of humor and are equally invested in the upbringing of their children. They allow one another the freedom to do whatever it is they want to do with their lives—almost. Howard pushes the boundaries. He has a serious weakness when it comes to sex with other women. But even after Kiki finds him out, she is willing to forgive him, despite the objections from her children. For Kiki and Howard, that is what love is all about. This is true, to a point. When Kiki thinks Howard just slipped one night and that was all there was to it, she is able to forgive and go on. However, when Kiki discovers that Howard has had a three-week affair with a mutual friend, she cuts him off, but not totally. She allows Howard to continue to live in the house. But Howard gives in to temptation again, this time with a girl younger than his own daughter. Kiki has had enough. Or has she? In the final chapter, Kiki sits in the audience while Howard gives a presentation. She smiles. It seems to be a loving expression. For Howard and Kiki, love is enduring despite betrayal.

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Latest answer posted December 12, 2013, 5:49 pm (UTC)

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Defining “what love is” is different for the Belsey’s oldest son, Jerome. Jerome falls in love with Victoria Kipps. At least, he thinks he has fallen in love. He mistakes sex for love. He confuses passion for love. Passion is a part of love but it is not the foundation. First, both people have to feel it, and Victoria definitely does not. Secondly, love needs to be strong enough to endure challenges like the ones Howard and Kiki are facing. Jerome is infatuated. He would like to be in love, but infatuation and love are only slightly related.

Ultimately, Smith’s characters define love in three distinct forms. Howard and Kiki’s love is a lot different from the love that Monty Kipps shares with his wife Carlene. Part of this is due to Carlene. She feels her role as a woman is to be submissive, to live her life totally for her husband and her children. She has little idea of who she is or what she wants. Because she is unaware of herself and her needs, her husband knows very little of Carlene. Their love is less personal than Howard and Kiki’s. The Kipps’ love is one of comfort.

All relationships, all loves, are complicated. For Monty and Carlene, the pair teeters between affection and ignorance of one another. This truism is most fully realized when Carlene dies of cancer. Monty takes her body back to England and back to the church and the congregation with whom Carlene had spent much of her time. He does this as an act of kindness and respect to his wife. However, when Monty discovers Carlene’s will and finds that she has bequeathed a painting to Kiki, he cannot comprehend how she could have done such a thing. Monty goes against her dying wishes and confiscates the painting for himself. He takes no notice and places no value on Carlene and Kiki’s friendship.  Believing his wife to be weak willed, he surmises that Kiki has coerced Carlene into giving her the painting. There are great gaps in Monty’s relationship with Carlene. He accepted her comfort, but that was about as deep as his love seems to have gone.

Finally, another crippled attempted at love is explored in Zora’s love for Carl. Her flawed love bears some similarity to her brother Jerome’s failed relationship. Like Jerome, Zora’s love cannot be real for it is a one-way attraction. Zora works hard for Carl’s benefit, fighting for the college’s policy of allowing non-registered students to attend classes. But complicating what might become a real love is the fact that Zora has a price attached to her actions. She wants to help Carl because he has flirted with her, shown her some attention. Like her brother Jerome, Zora has misread Carl’s intentions. When Zora finds Carl with Victoria Kipps, she loses it. Carl was supposed to be hers, as if she had bought him. Carl calls Zora out on this, saying he thought they were friends. Zora wants more than that. She has imagined a love between them, or at least the potential for it. But like Jerome’s affair, it is all one-sided, all in Zora’s head.

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