Lily Wilder’s getting married. The novel begins with her bachelorette party. By page two, she’s snogging a British guy who’s offered to buy her a drink. And then she gets a text from Philip, one of the partners at the law firm where she works, and returns to the office. Philip tells her that while she’s in Key West making preparations for her wedding, she also needs to work, preparing a client for a deposition.
I close my eyes. “Send someone else,” I say faintly.
“Very well, I will,” Philip says. “On one condition.”
I open my eyes. We gaze at each other in silence.
I stand up and shut the door. “Dress on or off?”
He comes around from behind his desk. “What a question.”
I reach back for the zipper. “I want you to spank me again.”
“You enjoyed that?” He stretches out on the long leather sofa. I climb on top of him.
“No,” I say, my mouth close to his ear. “I hated it.”
Lily’s fiancé, Will, works at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC as an associate curator in Greek and Roman Art. His mother is Anita Field, United States Attorney in Chicago. Will describes growing up with her as a mother as “A little like Guantanamo…Before they banned torture”. Everything we see and hear of him makes him seem completely lovely. He waits up for Lily to look after her when she gets home from her bachelorette party, he’s attentive and charming to Lily’s family, good-looking but neither vain nor arrogant and, apparently, excellent in bed.
When they arrive in Florida, Lily and Will, are greeted by Lily’s mum, Katherine, a renovator of old buildings who dresses in cargo shorts, t-shirts and work boots. On arriving at Katherine’s house, Lily discovers her stepmothers, Ana and Jane, as well as her gran, Izzie, are already there. Ana serves in Congress, ‘fierce and scrappy – famous for her tirades on the Sunday talk shows’; Jane’s ‘a society type who spends her time organising galas’, and Izzie’s recently retired from her job as a criminal defence attorney. Unable to secure a job in a law firm, where jobs for the boys ruled, she set up her own practice, building up her firm as she won many of her cases.
When I was little, I used to sneak in and watch Gran at work. You could do that in the courts in Key West back then. She held juries in the palm of her hand. She tied witnesses up in knots. She stood up to other lawyers – often smug, self-righteous men – and outsmarted them, over and over again. It looked like so much fun.
The women who surround Lily are completely awesome and they’ve all gathered in Key West days before the wedding to stage an intervention:
“He doesn’t know a damn thing about you, does he?” Gran demands.
“No,” she snaps. “Mr. Clean.”
Mom clears her throat nervously. “What your grandmother is trying to say, honey, is that we’ve talked it over, and – “
Ana cuts to the chase. “We think you should call off the wedding.”
“He’s all wrong for you,” Ana says.
“No no no, honey! That’s not what we mean. It’s just…” Mom pauses, struggling to articulate. “It’s just that you’re such a…a free spirit!”
“A live wire,” Ana suggests.
“A brazen slut,” says Jane.
It also becomes clear during this conversation that Lily left Key West for a big reason that Will doesn’t know about yet.
The build-up to the wedding is a frantic week populated with Mattie, the wedding planner; Will’s parents and his friends; Lily’s family, including her licentious father, Henry, her friends, Freddy and Nicole, the client she has to prepare and someone from her past through whom the reason she left Key West is revealed.
I Take You is fast-paced and a complete page-turner to the extent that I got annoyed if I had to put it down to do something else. It’s not just the speed, it’s also the structure – Lily’s secret is revealed at the mid-point of the novel and then it becomes a question of when Will will find out about it as well as Lily’s sexual relations with others. This runs alongside Lily’s preparation of her client, who is completely useless, for the deposition. This is all then complicated further by other factors that I won’t mention for fear of spoilers. There’s a lot going on but it works.
The other thing I loved about the novel is how outright feminist it is with regards to women’s (and girl’s) behaviour, work and sex. All the women in it are intelligent, capable and while most of them are connected by the two main men in the book – Will and Henry – they have numerous conversations about other things. This book doesn’t just pass the Bechdel test, it leaves it redundant (in this case only, of course, but still – hurrah!).
In terms of sex, clearly Lily’s lifestyle, in particular, explores the idea of women having lots of sex and – shock, horror – enjoying it. There are two fantastic conversations around this. The first is when Lily’s friend, Nicole, suggests that Lily has a lot of sex because she drinks. Freddy suggests the two have nothing to do with each other.
“But most women aren’t like that.”
“Oh, okay,” Freddy says. “So we’re not actually talking about Lily, then. We’re talking about ‘most women’, and what ‘most women’ do. Interesting.”
Nicole turns to me. “Am I so off base here?”
“The random hook-ups? The meaningless sex? Do you really enjoy it?”
Nicole shakes her head. “I don’t buy it.”
At which point I finally lose patience. “Why, because I’m a woman? And women aren’t like that? They don’t really enjoy sex? They don’t lust?”
“No, but – “
“I’m faking it, huh? It’s all a big trap to catch a man and have his babies? Good to know, Nicole. Thanks…”
The other is when Freddie reveals Nicole has referred to Lily as a slut.
“It’s a vicious little judgement and sentence, especially when one woman uses it to describe another…All the words for women who like casual sex are negative. All the words for men who like casual sex are positive…Slut. Whore. Ho. Skank. Tramp. What else?” Freddy pauses. “Floozy. Hussy. Now we have to get kind of old-timey. Trollop. Strumpet. Harlot. Can you come up with any positive terms – or even any neutral ones?
I think about it. “No,” I admit.
“But men who sleep around? They’re Casanovas. Don Juans.”
“Romeos,” I say. “Lotharios.”
“See?” Freddy says. “Talk about a double standard. Men get Shakespeare and women get the gutter.”
There are two things readers might not like about the book: the first is that Lily’s ‘unlikeable’ by which I mean that she acts, behaves and thinks like an actual woman and not some stereotypical representation of what people think a woman should act like. The second is the ending. I’m not completely convinced about it myself but I think it would be interesting to discuss it further. It’s not implausible by any means, I’m just not entirely sure it was a persuasive ending for Lily and Will’s story.
Despite my niggle about the end of the novel, I Take You is a flipping fabulous book. I really enjoyed this smart, lively, bang-up-to-date look at hetero relationships and high-powered jobs through the eyes of intelligent, powerful women. A joy.
Thanks to Vintage for the review copy.