***This post does not contain plot spoilers, but does reveal issues raised in the book.
With the recent waves of comments regarding “The Lookout” on social media, I feel it’s time to discuss things further.
There are no claims made of a traditional romance HEA. It’s a story of a new threesome that ends as a twosome. I’ve always aimed to be as gritty and realistic as possible. All relationships are unique. People develop feelings for others at different rates and in different ways. Sometimes things work out and sadly, sometimes, they don’t.
In the case of this novella, one of the threesome suffers a mental health condition that they have never disclosed to the other two.
The three men meet and have an explosive instalust that carries them throughout the summer. Two of them rapidly develop a deeper connection. This happens in life: a lot more often than the fantasy of three people magically having an equal journey to some idealistic HEA. Sure, you’ll read a ton of books with that escapist element. That’s great; I’ve read and enjoyed quite a lot of them. But let’s not diminish other approaches. We don’t all have to be the same.
Far from being some hackneyed study about petty jealousy, there are more significant problems explored in this novella. The two men with the closer connection have deep feelings for the third. This is amply demonstrated in their actions and dialogue. But of course there are squabbles. Who out of us has never put a foot wrong in a relationship? Who of us has never lashed out in anger?
The “third wheel” in this relationship – which is most certainly not my definition – is in a hypomanic state at the beginning of this throuple arrangement. The most common presentation of this state is that people are fun, excitable and profoundly intense. Often they are easily aggravated. Their speech is pressured. They have flight-of-ideas. They can’t express themselves fast enough.
All these signs lend themselves well to fiery, passionate and wildly sexual exploits.
In The Lookout, the two men with the deeper connection are oblivious. They accept the third’s heightened affect as a personality trait. They adore him, but they can’t reach him. People who are hypomanic are hard to read. How do you put yourself on the line, how do you make yourself vulnerable and tell someone you love them when you have no real idea how they might react or feel towards you?
This is especially pertinent to gay male relationships. They often start off as sexual connections. If you’re lucky and it’s great sex, you may be able to develop something more. The heteronormative cliche of waiting until you’re sure someone loves you before you have sex is unrealistic. That gay men can be told they’re doing this the wrong way is deeply offensive. Let’s not confuse fantasy with reality and try to dictate the way in which a whole section of society conducts their love lives.
A change comes with this “third wheel” character when he swings into a bipolar phase of major depression. This is much more severe than regular major depression. Instead of a gradual descent or a long and chronic presentation, it’s a sudden crash from a massive height. And let’s be really clear about this here: it can happen at any time. It is not brought on by petty feelings of jealousy. If it’s going to be triggered by anything in particular, it’s frequently due to lack of compliance with medication. This is worth highlighting.
The jealousy this character experiences in The Lookout is triggered by his movement into a depressive bipolar phase. It is not the other way around. I cannot emphasise this enough. The two other men in this throuple can only look on helplessly as this turn of events comes about. They aren’t privy to any details of the third man’s mental health issues and they’re baffled because nothing they do seems to work.
Should they have split up with him, set him free? If we stand outside of this relationship looking on in judgement, it’s easy to make this assumption. Once again: who out of us has never put a foot wrong in a relationship? When you’re stuck in the middle of a difficult and messy situation, you don’t always make the best decisions. Over and above, where’s the story in that? If conflict is resolved by tying it in a neat satin bow, then what’s the point?
Our time as readers is valuable. Read the book, don’t read the book. But make no mistake, this novella deals with important issues. They need to be addressed. They touch the lives of so many of us. Whether or not I’ve done them sufficient justice is a matter of subjective opinion.