After drifting through her 55th birthday surrounded by passing acquaintances, Audrey is determined to interrupt her own loneliness. She desperately wants a partner in life, but she hasn’t married and doesn’t want a cat. In an impulsive moment, Audrey visits a pet store and comes home with an iguana named Newt. As she finds companionship with her odd little pet, Audrey begins to open herself up to making new friends, reconnecting with old ones, and even trying her hand at online dating. Meanwhile, her neighbor Frank—a widower with six parakeets—has developed a crush on Audrey, but isn’t sure how to make the first move. When his dead wife suddenly appears as a ghost, she makes her purpose clear: she’s going to help him find love again before she moves on.
Beyond a desire for companionship, Audrey is defined by her inquisitive inner voice, as she constantly analyzes what it means to be a feminist through the lens of time, age, and environment. When she befriends two women in their 20s, Audrey begins to reevaluate her own experiences as a young woman. Her new friends are initially presented as opposing caricatures—one claims to be an anti-feminist party girl, the other a man-hating social justice warrior—but slowly, author Kathie Giorgio peels away their outer armor, revealing both individual complexities and shared experiences. Audrey’s reflections on feminism and activism are frequently linked to the 2016 presidential election. While her constant musings can sometimes feel repetitive, Giorgio prevents Audrey from becoming didactic by expertly using the complex combination of grief, anger, and confusion created by the election to drive her thoughts.
Giorgio also excels at illustrating character growth through recurring motifs, including the Gloria Steinem quote “A woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle.” Throughout IF YOU TAME ME, Audrey picks apart the phrase again and again, finding new meaning as she attempts to reconcile her desire for love with her expanding definition of feminism. Giorgio’s inclusion of the slyly named dating website Fish in the Sea contributes to Audrey’s deconstruction of the phrase, along with chapter titles such as “Dating in your sixties is like riding a bicycle…when you’re a fish.”
Intermittent chapters written from Frank’s perspective are much less analytical yet share a similar sardonic humor, establishing him as someone who could simultaneously ground and support Audrey. As a widower who is finally seeking love again, a muted grief permeates Frank’s observations—especially once the ghost of his dead wife appears. The single inclusion of otherworldliness in an otherwise realistic novel feels random, and Giorgio never establishes whether the ghost is real or simply a manifestation of grief. Overall though, using an iguana, six birds, and a ghost to bring two people together makes for a compellingly unique romance.
IF YOU TAME ME is a timely and quirky tale that explores the politics of womanhood, aging, relationships, and loneliness against the backdrop of a burgeoning romance.
~Cameron Gillespie for IndieReader