Review: 'For Love of Self' is Intriguing, Romantic, and Smart

Christopher Verleger READ TIME: 2 MIN.

Whether it's sexuality, gender identity, or religion, author Robin Reardon's impressive body of work exquisitely and profoundly examines an individual's journey of self-discovery.

Her latest novel, "For Love of Self," the second book in the Blessed Be trilogy, reintroduces Spencer Hill, a minister trying to make the most of his influential role in a small community, who simultaneously learns to better understand himself and his destiny.

"For Love of Self" takes places in 1987, three years after the first book, "For Love of God," when Spencer came to the realization that he could better serve as a spiritual advisor if he left the Episcopal Church. Now at a Unitarian Universalist parish in Assisi, Vermont, Spencer can live as an openly gay man, but the evident cultural differences in this tiny town prove to be more of an obstacle than he could have ever anticipated.

The distinctive residents of Assisi include his predecessor, Vanessa, whose health is failing quickly; her dog, Klondike; and lay ministers Vanessa, an out and proud lesbian, and the seemingly standoffish Marshall, who is taken aback by Spencer's welcoming disposition. Overall, nothing appears out of the ordinary until one day, during a casual stroll in the forest, when Spencer spots a naked young man performing a ritualistic, erotic dance.

Spencer soon learns the man's identity – Adam Cooper – and that his family belongs to a Pagan group called the Forest Dwellers. Determined to unite everyone in harmony despite their contrary beliefs, Spencer approaches renowned members of the neighboring communities, only to learn there is a long history of deep-seated resentment between them.

With Spencer as narrator, the novel is a compelling character study of a man who matures both personally and professionally. Although his line of work is not exactly commonplace, everyone can relate to his career uncertainty, desire to excel, and inherent need to prove his worth to both himself and his parish.

Furthermore, Spencer's intellectual curiosity also provides the reader with a fascinating overview of Paganism and Unitarian Universalism. His lofty efforts to meld both societies ultimately put not only his reputation but personal safety at risk, which speaks to Spencer's courage and integrity, and makes for a storyline fraught with intrigue and suspense.

His personal life also provides plenty of drama to keep the pages turning, as Spencer clearly becomes more comfortable in his own skin. If only the same could be said of the tormented Marshall, who Spencer cannot help but have a soft spot for, and the mysterious Adam, whose brazen attitude leaves Spencer equally aroused and bewildered.

With "For Love of Self," the author has crafted another unforgettable, thought-provoking tale, with an exemplary central figure in a delicate situation. While it is a commendable and worthwhile novel by itself, the reader especially admires and appreciates Spencer when they realize how much he has grown since the first book. The new installment fittingly sets the stage for more excitement, adventure, and discovery in the forthcoming conclusion.

"For Love of Self" is available now.

by Christopher Verleger

Chris is a voracious reader and unapologetic theater geek from Narragansett, Rhode Island.

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