Flinging It mixes pleasure and pain, levity and heartache, discomfort and freedom, as the protagonists, Cora and Frazer, fumble their way forward (and backward). The romance, set in Perth, Australia, is light and fun, but is also an emotional rollercoaster. I tried to keep certain plot points vague, but this review may seem sort of spoiler-y.
When it comes to sticky and seemingly hopeless circumstances, like the ones Frazer and Cora find themselves in, I think of a scene from Katherine V. Forrest’s novel Curious Wine. It’s contains an important message that this story shares: it’s never too late to change the direction your life takes. I can probably relate my favorite romance to just about any story.
Frazer, a dedicated midwife and administrator, pours herself into leading Midwifery at the hospital where she works. It’s stable, steady employment. The hospital provides a secure launch point from which she can pursue her heart’s project: providing intensive support to pregnant people during and after their pregnancies. It’s also a safety net that both helps and hinders her and one that she’ll struggle to step away from.
Cora, meanwhile, is suffocating in her marriage to Alec, a man who also controls her professional life as her boss at the hospital. It’s an emotionally manipulative relationship, one in which Cora is disappearing. Alec insists that her interests, career as a social worker, and friendships don’t matter; and if they are deemed worthwhile, it’s only in relation to how expedient they are to his own ambitions.
Monday morning meetings and casual greetings are all the women share. They develop a strong friendship after Frazer approaches Cora about helping to re-draft her project proposal. They spend more and more time together outside of the hospital, relishing shared ideas, banter, and encouragement. Their relationship quickly complicates as they increasingly rely on each other for emotional support and sexual release. Guilt cuts into any pleasure they derive from each other. Whenever Frazer sees Alec after the first night with Cora, she thinks “I slept with your wife”.
Cora, for her part, is entangled in feelings of guilt, desperation, and thirst for a loving partnership. She keeps telling herself that she has to fix her marriage because she cheated. She tells herself that she owes Alec the chance to “change”. However, the relationship has been plagued for months, years, by arguments and manipulation. Benson portrays his controlling and manipulative behavior with thinly veiled hostility, rage, and arrogance. It’s when he doesn’t get his way that the mask slips. The scenes in which they argue show how Cora always ends up on the losing side, even when she’s in the “power seat” in her office. Scenes in which she accepts Alec’s version of events over her own nearly every time are disturbing. Her internal struggle with her intense unhappiness and his domineering evolves at a pace that feels true to her character, based on her circumstances. Whenever she tries to leave him, he proceeds to demean her, telling her that she can’t do that to him, that she would be nothing without him, that her parents would be so disappointed in her for getting a divorce. Persons caught up in a cycle of emotional and mental abuse find it difficult to escape from the cycle, especially when they are cut off from a wide support network. Cora had assumed in the past that such behavior was “normal”. She makes this comment more than once in the story and I wonder what her dating and home life growing up were like.
Frazer comes to resent how the terms of their relationship always fall on Cora’s terms. When Cora feels overwhelmed by guilt, it’s off. When Frazer wants to pull back, Cora gives her no space. Their relationship isn’t on solid or healthy footing, either. They push and pull each other until they can’t ignore the tenuous balance of having a workplace affair. Both women seek out crutches to help them along. Frazer dives into swimming and alcohol. Cora also goes out more often and wakes up with slight hangovers.
The story explores a range of topics, including emotionally abusive relationships; workplace romance; pregnancy; hospital bureaucracy; infidelity; divorce; and investing in yourself. Frazer comes from an Indian-Australian family and Cora’s family heritage brings together Thai, Korean, and Australian. While the two women’s families are important to them, the story includes only minimal scenes in which we hear that they had a get together or dinner. Those relationships are not expanded on, aside from Frazer’s sister Jemma.
Secondary characters provide shine and add much needed support, love, and reality checks for Frazer and Cora. Jemma, Frazer’s annoyingly persistent, yet much loved, younger sister. Tia, Frazer’s close work friend and secretary for Alec, holds her friend accountable with tough love. And Lisa, Cora’s indefatigable best friend. Lisa, puts her energies behind helping Cora.despite struggling with heavy issues of her own. Cora, for her part, expresses concern over her friend’s plight, but vacillates between self-absorption and attentiveness.
Jack, a bisexual transgender teen, is one of the pregnancy program’s first patients. His ex-boyfriend drops out of the picture after learning of Jack’s pregnancy. The novel explores the difficulties of Jack’s situation: homeless, pregnant, and dropped out of school. Frazer and Cora combine their expertise to provide Jack with essential support during and after the pregnancy. First and foremost, they listen to him. Although he is a minor character, his role is essential to how the two women’s relationship plays out.
I felt satisfied by the way their storylines played out. No one in this novel is perfect and the two leads make more than their fair share of mistakes, but Alec takes the cake for being vile and odious and utterly irredeemable. How sustainable a relationship can be when it starts off this way? If the women had not distanced themselves from each other and cut down on contact, the conclusion would have felt less than satisfying. A cloud would have hung over their intentions and expectations. Towards the end, though, the women are compelled to make critical choices that will decide how close they come to realizing their dreams, passions, and truest selves. Flinging It is a romance that inspires muddled feelings. I’d love to hear what others think about this romance. Please let me know in the comments!
You can read more of Julie’s reviews on her blog, Omnivore Bibliosaur (jthompsonian.wordpress.com)