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Elizabeth Bernays
Across the Divide
Nothing prepared Liz, the academic scientist (with a background in Australia and UK) for Linda, the quick-witted eighth-grade dropout from Texas excelling in malapropisms and outlandish jokes. Linda was still married and Liz a grieving widow. How could they sustain a relationship when they had such different personalities, backgrounds, and interests? But despite obvious incompatibilities, their chemistry was undeniable, and the extraordinary contrast was exciting for both of them. Over time, each of them enthusiastically engaged the other in different pursuits and each of them bonded over the novelties. They introduced each other to their favorite entertainments, with mixed results (Linda found opera boring; Liz cheered for the wrong team at a University of Arizona basketball game). Linda’s jokes kept them constantly alive to humor that offset the complexities of the lives they led when they were apart. But slowly, their shared love of nature, carefree RV trips, and travel abroad (with the help of antianxiety meds for Linda’s first time on a plane), brought them ever closer. Maybe, they realized, they were more alike than they thought, as each pondered their love of being rebels. Maybe their differences were to be celebrated rather than overcome.
This warm, heartening memoir details the unlikely romance between author Bernays (Six Legs Walking: Notes from an Entomological Life), a widowed scientist with a passion for entomology, and Linda, a colorful younger woman with a penchant for photography, malapropisms, down-home humor, and a husband to whom she is committed. Despite their differences and some serious hurdles—among them Bernays’s grief at the loss of her husband, Linda's devotion to her own, plus disunities in education, interests and goals—the two forge a long-term relationship that flourishes.

Bernays pens beautiful descriptions of the natural world around Tuscon (“the lonely hills and valleys with their patches of yellow from Tecoma flowers and deep washes highlighted by the light greens of cottonwood trees”) that the women explore together, Bernays as she pursues research, Linda as she accompanies, discovering the rich life of the landscape. Like Linda, readers will develop a rousing sense of the passion that powers Bernays’s work. Other passions are teased out more slowly. Much of the narrative focuses on Linda, her background and struggles, all touchingly rendered, and as it’s only near the end of the book that Bernays directly addresses sexual identity and her bold choice to pursue a relationship with a woman. The memoir reads like it must have been lived, as a series of small discoveries that change two lives.

Especially engaging are stories of the women’s rambles through the desert and around the world, the sense of trust and connection strengthening between them. As Linda endeavors to find out more about her birth family, Bernays offers glimpses into her own childhood with a mother who would not approve of these choices, making clear how these issues have shaped both of these women’s lives and relationships. Bernays writes with clear-eyed tenderness, stirring readers to invest in this love story.

Takeaway: Touching story of a widowed scientist discovering unexpected love in the desert.

Comparable Titles: Cameron Esposito’s Save Yourself, Sophie Santos’s The One You Want to Marry (And Other Identities I’ve Had).

Production grades
Cover: B+
Design and typography: A
Illustrations: N/A
Editing: A
Marketing copy: A