Update: An excerpt of this review appears on the first page (or first few pages if you are reading on a small device) of both the print and digital editions of “The Game Changer”. I am honored.
“The Game Changer: A Memoir of Disruptive Love” is the new book by Franklin Veaux, co-author of “More Than Two“. If you haven’t read his first book, yet, click on the book title in that last sentence, read my review, and go buy yourself a copy.
I was incredibly excited to get to read the book in advance of its release this September. To get your copy, click on the image below to pre-order.
Now, for my review.
The Short Version
“More than anything, I craved being understood.” (Page 134)
I finished reading the book less than 24 hours after I received it. It is a compelling story about a fascinating individual. So at its core, it fulfills the requirements of a good auto-biography. Beyond that, it is well-written and structured in a way that gives the reader a great sense of the passage of time and the growth of the individuals across the years. The author successfully portrays both his old and new ways of thinking, and does a great job of connecting the threads between them in a way that really helps you to see the bigger picture of his journey. I was struck by how much I identified with both the author and his struggles. I expressed to others that it was reassuring, in a way, to read about someone like him feeling frustrated and lost and hurt, because I have felt that way. So if he could find his way through the fog and find happiness, then so can we. And if nothing else, at least we know that there someone else out there who understands what the fog feels like. That alone feels really good.
The Long Version
“I’m not polyamorous because I want to have sex with a bunch of women; I’m polyamorous because of the way I feel about family, commitment, and love.” (Page 179)
While “More Than Two” inspired me to think about relationships differently and to approach those around me with a new level of compassion and honesty, “Game Changer” instead serves as a source of hope, assuring you that those efforts are worth it. Veaux is someone who I have often held up as a sort of alternative relationships guru (a feeling that was entrenched when I read More Than Two), but in this book, he shows that he has, for much of his life, been just as lost and confused as I have often felt.
When I was about 30 pages away from finishing the book, I wrote a note to the person who had sent it to me saying that I appreciated having the chance to read it. I also told her that I was enjoying it. Immediately after hitting send, I regretted choosing the word “enjoy”. The vast majority of this book consists of following along someone’s personal journey of incredible turmoil and heartache. Veaux has dug into incredibly painful parts of his life and laid them out for us to learn from. So saying that I was enjoying reading about the suffering and hardship that has led him to the values and ideas that he holds today was not quite accurate. I wrote back to her again and said, “A lot of it is very emotionally difficult, but I am strongly identifying with the struggles and appreciating the opportunity to feel some comfort in the “I’m not alone feelings” while also getting the background perspectives that likely fueled the ideas of “More Than Two”. But ‘enjoy’ is perhaps not the right word for that.”
In school, I always remember being frustrated in math class. On tests, I would look at a problem and be able to tell you the answer, but I was also required to ‘show my work’, demonstrating how I arrived at the solution. I always felt that having the solution was good enough, but others wanted more from me. If “More Than Two” was Veaux’s solutions to poly problems, than this book is his way of showing his work. A lot of us, myself included, wanted to know how he reached the conclusions that he has about relationships. A lot of us agreed with him, but still wanted to see the process laid out. This book does that in incredible and painful detail.
“… it’s difficult to believe that you won’t be hurt again when the person hurting you has no idea why their behavior is painful.” (Page 180)
One moment that stood out for me, late in the book, was when he was describing a moment in their relationship where he and his wife were first acknowledging fundamental problems in the core of their relationship. They were reaching out to the world for answers and finding none. I wrote in my notebook that “The sense of hopelessness really comes through in this chapter. I can feel myself aching with the sorrow of these moments, even though I know what will emerge from the other side of it.”
One of the really beautiful elements of this book is the way that they are able to bring you into the room with them and feel things. I teared up more than once as they story progressed, at one point in particular, I couldn’t help but feel a deep sense of remorse for the moment that he describes as one of the three worst moments of his life (all three of which happened in cars). I don’t mind admitting that I get emotional when I read sad things, but only when the story-teller is successful in making me care, which he seems to do almost effortlessly.
“Maryann was a world-class snuggler, the sort who might be a favorite to win Olympic gold if there were an event in competitive snuggling.” (Page 116)
Veaux’s descriptions of small, random moments of joy and connection, which might seem like trivial details in such a big story, provide a crucial sense of humanity that regularly reminds the reader that everyone involved in the story are real people. And despite their quest for non-standard relationships and even enjoyment of the occasional whips and chains, they also enjoy watching puppies play in the park, or turtles ride on the backs of alligators, or snuggling quietly with someone you love.
“It doesn’t matter that the world is without purpose or meaning, because it has hot chocolate and sunsets and waterfalls and the smell of a lover and the sound of rain on the roof when we’re safe and warm in bed, and those things are awesome. So even if tomorrow we might get hit by a bus on the way to the grocery store, today, right now, we have each other, and each moment we exist is really all we ever have anyway.” (Page 36)
His larger world views bleed through in many of the smaller moments. After reading the above passage early in the book, I remarked that the book was secretly about way more than just poly. Several more times, throughout, I found myself highlighting and bookmark ideas that he gave such wonderful voice to, even those that were not just about relationships.
“Agreements built on insecurity and fear punish the people who make them, but they punish the people around those who make them far more.” (Page 146)
This, I think, is the most important line in the whole book. It is the moral of the story, I believe. It transcends the world of poly, too. In how many ways to we solicit promises from others around us only to allay our own fears and insecurities and fool ourselves into feeling safe? How often in our lives do we allow commitment and obligation to be our security blanket, rather than ensuring that we constantly earn the loyalty and love of others around us? Whether you identify as polyamorous or not, I think that idea is one worth considering. That idea is why I recommend this book without reservation.
“Amber is a dragonslayer, and you do not always get to have a comfortable relationship when you are in love with a dragonslayer.” (Page 205)
If I had any complaint about the book, it would be that the title doesn’t quite match the content. On page 2, we are told that the book is about his first game-changing relationship, yet that person, Amber the Dragonslayer/Giraffe/Game Changer, is not introduced to us until the last 60 pages. While the title of the book is “Game Changer”, a term and concept that are explored in-depth in “More Than Two”, 75% of this book is about the time before he met Amber. Instead, the book seems to follow his relationship, from beginning to end, with his ex-wife. That isn’t a bad thing necessarily. As I said before, that depiction of struggle is one of the things I value most about the story. It is simply that I expected, based on the title and introduction, to read more about that radical, game-changing shift in thinking and the ways in which his life changed afterward.
It would be like if Avengers 2 was titled “Age of The Vision” and then we all left disappointed that most of it was about Ultron and The Vision didn’t show up until the end. That would not have made the movie any less awesome, though, and “Game Changer” is still a great book, despite this small disconnect.
So, my major gripe is that the story ended before I wanted it to, but I think that really says a lot about how compelling it is. I truly devoured the book and I look forward to sharing it with others this autumn. I would definitely tell people to read “More Than Two” first. But for those that bristle at ideas in it, such as the rejection of veto policies and the elevation of the status and rights of secondary partners, this book fills in some of the necessary gaps and explains why he believes so strongly in those things, which (in spite of how the high school version of me felt about showing your work) is probably just as important, if not more-so. In many ways, this book may serve as a short-cut, allowing readers to learn from Veaux’s experiences and mistakes, in lieu of making their own, and avoid many of the pitfalls that people beginning their exploration of poly often fall into.
… And his geekiness makes me smile.