Story Rating: 5 stars
Audio Rating: 5 stars
Narrator: Adam Gold
Length: 13 hours, 27 minutes
“Because when you love someone, you don’t get to just love the good stuff and turn it off when things are difficult. It doesn’t work like that. When you fall in love, you are accepting someone wholly and completely.”
Love Me Whole is a beautiful and extraordinary book about the love that develops between two men, one with Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID), and their journey of acceptance and healing. It is a story about a man with a secret – five, in fact – because Oryn has five individual personalities, or alters, living inside his mind. They differ in age, appearance, temperament, occupation, even sexual orientation. There is Cohen, the most present alter, who is not subtle in his sexual attraction to Vaughn once they meet; Reed, who aggressively protects Oryn; Rain, an excitable five-year-old boy; Cove, the anguished, dangerous, self-harming alter who bears the burden of having endured the childhood trauma that caused the DID; and Theo, who is a father figure to Rain, and strives for peace between Cove and Oryn. If Oryn can’t learn to accept Cove as part of the system of alters, he can’t heal as a whole.
Oryn meets Vaughn in a college class. When Oryn is subjected to ridicule by other students, Vaughn steps in to befriend him and encourage him to work together on a class project. Shy and stuttering, Oryn tries to warn off Vaughn by disclosing his DID, but Vaughn isn’t dissuaded. In fact, he wants to know more about the fragile man, so he persists in pushing past Oryn’s palpable unease.
After spending much time together working on their semester-long project, the men find themselves attracted to each other, but Oryn feels he’s a lost cause. Again, Vaughn = persistence. He eventually finds himself in a relationship, not with one man, but with a complicated system of six individual personalities. In Oryn’s world, an alter can come forward randomly at any time without notice, sometimes triggered to protect Oryn from a real or imagined threat. And one of those perceived threats, at least to some of the alters, is Vaughn. He exhibits patience when he wants to spend time with Oryn, but finds himself unexpectedly in the presence of an alter. He also tirelessly educates himself so he can be the best man he can for Oryn.
This is not just a story of Oryn’s growth, though; the alters are very much front and center at times, so their needs must be addressed as well. Vaughn plays a significant role in facilitating this growth. His interactions with the alters vary from discomfiting to humorous, flirtatious to frightening. Through it all, Vaughn’s steadfast commitment allows Oryn to cautiously open up to him. It is this and the alters’ gradual acceptance of Vaughn that form the backbone of the novel.
Love Me Whole is a roller coaster of emotion, at times hopeful, moving, perplexing, and frightening, but always compelling. Nicky James is at her very best here. She has clearly done extensive research; DID defies logic, but James does an admirable job of breaking down stereotypes, as well as providing the reader with accurate information on the disorder and how it can be managed. I enjoyed reading James’ Trials of Fear series and now this book because I walk away with a greater knowledge of mental illness, a subject of great importance.
Although the story is complex because of the subject matter, the plot is simple in this character-driven novel. The many, many layers of Oryn’s character are so well-crafted on page. The book is evenly paced and never lags. The conflict runs the length of the book with the resolution gradually evolving as the book heads toward a heartfelt ending. Grab the tissues!
There is a rich palette of secondary characters, including Vaughn’s best friend, Evan, who gives unconditional support to Vaughn and provides a bit of comic relief. There is extensive character development of each alter, so varied from each other in every aspect.
I have read the book and now listened to the audiobook, and I don’t think I have ever encountered a story that benefited from narration as much as Love Me Whole. Adam Gold, a new-to-me voice actor, brought each alter to life, not only with well differentiated voices, but through his ability to convey personality nuances. Gold’s interpretation of Oryn’s voice – stuttering and timid, but not annoying – feels authentic. It must have taken great control and stamina to speak in his voice for the thirteen plus hours of this recording. He delivers flirty playfulness for Cohen; a fierce protectiveness and aggression for Reed; Rain’s youthful exuberance; Theo’s stoicism; and Cove’s anger and despair.
The story is told through Vaughn’s first person POV, and Gold delivers Vaughn’s narration in a clear, well-modulated voice that I never struggle to understand. He successfully conveys Vaughn’s kindness, frustration, and longing.
I highly recommend the Love Me Wholeaudiobook, particularly to those interested in a fascinating trek through an atypical human psyche. The book itself is wonderful, but I encourage you to try the audiobook because of how much the distinct voices for each alter will enhance your experience. Vaughn’s love for Oryn is a boundless and breathtaking thing to experience as a reader. This romance is truly one of a kind and you’ll be rooting for Oryn, Vaughn, and the alters the whole way.
Note from Jay: Please join us today in welcoming Valerie to our team! Valerie is a dedicated animal advocate, working for the rights of dogs, cats, farm animals, and elephants. She fights for the abolition of poaching and currently fosters three orphaned baby elephants at a nursery in Kenya. As a child, Valerie was frequently seen lugging around her favorite collection of books – The World Book Encyclopedia. Or maybe the Peanuts Treasury by Charles Schulz. Today she reads MM Romance almost exclusively because, alas, the encyclopedia is extinct. Valerie’s perfect dream day? Lounging on a yacht in the Caribbean and listening to a favorite audiobook while Farrow and Maximoff from the Ritchie sisters’ Like Us series fan her with palm fronds.