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Stephen Akey
Raccoon Love
Stephen Akey, author
Ever fallen in love? If so, you might remember some of the feelings: the dizziness, the silliness, the rapture, the idealization that ennobles both the lover and the beloved. Stephen Akey remembers all this and more in his funny, touching, and heartbreaking memoir of his twenty-three years with Lucy Ha Kung, the dazzling Chinese-Philippine graduate student that he meets one spring day in 1980 on the campus of Columbia University. And he also remembers the obverse: the disillusion, the despair, and the wavering determination to make a new life that constitute falling out of love. In between, Akey explores intimacy in all its splendid, mysterious, and maddening guises, in particular those that shape the contours of a fairly representative middle-class marriage taking place in Park Slope, Brooklyn in the 1980s and 1990s. Stephen and Lucy, for most of those twenty-three years, love each other profoundly, but they’re not Tristan and Isolde or Antony and Cleopatra. If anything, they resemble a pair of raccoons in their den: creaturely, furry, and clinging to each other for comfort and security. Raccoon love, like most varieties of Eros, eventually dies. It’s no less sublime for that.
In this bittersweet memoir Akey (Culture Fever) shares the love story of meeting his years-long partner, Lucy Ha Kung, “at the sundial in front of Low Library on the campus of Columbia University in the spring of 1980” and then building in Brooklyn a love akin to that of raccoons: “creaturely, warm, furry, and clinging to each other for love and security.” Looking back at the 1980s and 1990’s, Akey recounts the couple’s meeting, dating, and building a life with a “fretful, colicky” baby, writing with insight and candor even when the difficulties of marriage take its toll. Akey paints Lucy as a singular person, someone intimate and substantive, while also showering her with adoration and dropping enough hints, early on, to make the ultimate painful end seem inevitable.

Akey’s story-telling is highly enjoyable. The minutiae of a romantic, loving relationship are keenly described, and with welcome candor addresses the experience of being a Playboy-ogling suburban white kid who goes on to marry a Chinese woman in an era when Caucasian-Asian relationships were rare. Together, the two faced the challenges of trying to make it in the arts, which Akey describes with incisive wit, noting that in “the literary/publishing world…you couldn’t get established unless you were already established.” He characterizes the choice faced by Lucy, an artist working in apartment-filling tapestries and then large abstract paintings, with empathy: “She could choose to be quietly satisfied or clamorously frustrated.”

“I remember every kiss, every caress,” Akey writes, and his account of being completely lovesick and then seeing passion give way to a working partnership and eventually a breakup is intense, precise, and alive with feeling. Even familiar feelings–”I still loved looking into Lucy’s limpid brown eyes. She, apparently, took no such pleasure in gazing into my muddy greenish ones”–have a freshness and power. Readers of memoir or late 20th century New York or American lifestyle history will enjoy this romantic, realistic narrative.

Takeaway: A touching account of an interracial romance in 1980s Brooklyn, alive with feeling and insight.

Great for fans of: Gabriel Cohen’s Storms Can’t Hurt the Sky, Nicole Chung’s All You Can Ever Know.

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