“Innocence doesn’t exist. Complicity is everywhere,” writes Michele Morano in Like Love, a collection of autobiographical essays about romantic relationships that are not quite amorous. There's a piece about a man with whom she slept—literally—during a summer in graduate school; one about an elderly landlord she found herself having dinner with whenever her live-in boyfriend was away; and others about strangers like Tomas, who becomes her travel companion during a stopover trip to Germany.
Many of the encounters in Like Love are brief, but one figure returns throughout the text: Morano’s mother, Rita, an unlikely subject for a book mostly about sexual affairs that never materialize. Morano’s relationship with Rita is fraught with both bitterness and infatuation. The long-legged, beautiful woman appears early in the second essay, “Breaking and Entering,” which details the disintegration of Morano’s parents’ marriage; and she returns in “Evenings at the Collegeview Diner,” an essay that explains how Morano’s first job allowed her to rebuild a relationship with both her parents. Rita is arguably the love of Morano’s life, though she died never knowing this. In “All the Power This Charm Doth Owe,” Rita visits then-grad student Morano in Iowa City and clearly wants to stay, but Morano dodges her mother’s intimations and commences falling in love with the man who will help her conceive her next complicated love interest: her son. The final essay examines Morano’s anxieties as a new mother and newly orphaned daughter who is initially unsure whether she really loves her child.
Like Love asks readers to destigmatize our most illogical iterations of love—the love we have for our parents, platonic friends, children and, sometimes, other people’s children—because even when love is inevitably flawed, it is perfectly natural. From her explanations of the brain’s activity as we fall head over heels for someone, to a breakdown of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Morano makes clear that even though we are all complicit in love and its ensuing chaos, our only obligation is to experience it. “Feel the presence,” writes Morano at the end of Like Love, “the ever-presence of romance in all its many forms, most of which are puzzles, mysteries that point us toward deep reflection on who we are and how we live.”