★★★★★ The Medium of Desire by Alex McGlothlin is a weighty romance about two young people living in Richmond, Virginia. Brett Bale is a successful artist who is right on the cusp of becoming a household name. A bad breakup in his past has left him closed off to romantic pursuits, but that all changes when he meets Olivia Martin. Olivia has just left her finance job in New York City after realizing that working herself to the bone will only lead her to an early grave. Now, visiting her parents in Richmond, she crosses paths with Brett, with whom she shares an instant connection. But romance is seldom simple, especially for two people so unaccustomed to it.
Initially, this novel seems like it will simply replicate the romantic trope of “artist” meets “realist,” or that one character will be given the role of educating the other in learning to appreciate life better. But, after introducing his protagonists, McGlothlin quickly gets to work painting them in a rich palette of wants and needs. Brett, once seen as a misanthropic recluse, is revealed to have deep connections to a few key people around him. These relationships, the reader finds, are one of the sources of his inner strength. Olivia, by contrast, finds a balance between work and romance, proving that she can—and deserves to—have it all. Though the novel’s tone comes across a bit nihilistic at times, its ultimate message, strengthened by a sprinkling of colorful and generally optimistic supporting characters, is that life’s beauty is better enjoyed with someone you love by your side.