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June 4, 2015

The Anti-Love Triangle --- Guest Post by Anne Heltzel


Imagine: Your boyfriend was in an explosion and is presumed dead, and you go to his memorial service, utterly distraught. While there, you meet his family members, friends…and other girlfriend.

That’s exactly what happens to Lena and Aubrey in CHARLIE, PRESUMED DEAD, but they don’t instantly hate each other. Instead, they bond over their unique grief, and decide to jet-set around the world to see if he is actually alive, and to learn more about him.

In the below blog post, author Anne Heltzel writes about why she decided to make Lena and Aubrey react this way, and her overall feelings on “competing” over significant others (hint: it’s not good!).



CHARLIE, PRESUMED DEAD could easily be construed as a novel about a twisty love triangle featuring two boy-crazy girls who are willing to drop everything in pursuit of a guy who treated them horribly.

That was not my intention when writing CHARLIE, though, and it’s not what fascinated me most about the relationship dynamics I explored in the novel. Sure, it’s fun to pick apart the psyche of someone so diabolical that he’ll go to any length to get what and (whom) he wants. But the more I wrote, the more important I felt it was to dissect the female relationship dynamics at play.

In CHARLIE, PRESUMED DEAD,Lena and Aubrey find out they’ve been dating the same boy…when they show up at his memorial service. Here’s a situation where two females could easily have become enemies. They were both betrayed by someone they loved and they were unwittingly betrayed by one another. They were experiencing jealousy and betrayal on top of their initial grief (at discovering their boyfriend was likely dead).

At the beginning of the narrative, Lena and Aubrey are caught up in a vicious spiral of negative emotions. In that sense, the reader meets them in their least desirable incarnations. But my hope in writing about two females who have been put through an unusually hurtful experience was to bring them to a stronger, more unified place.

I think society unfortunately perpetuates an unhealthily competitive dating atmosphere among women. I remember growing up in the Midwest as a teenager and knowing that certain boys were “off limits” because other girls liked them. There’s so much literature being thrown at women daily about how to be the best ---better than other women, rather than our best selves --- in order to “lock down” the right guy. Shows like “The Bachelorette”encourage this competitive dynamic.

Men are not prizes; nor are women. No person should have to “fight” with another individual in order to “win” a boyfriend or spouse. This mentality is all wrong, and in my opinion, it encourages a dysfunctional attitude toward romantic relationships as well as friendships. It’s not an attitude I’d like my nieces and nephews to internalize. I think we’re all aware by now how counterproductive game playing in relationships is, but how far back, exactly, do the games begin?

At the moment when Lena and Aubrey meet, they could easily choose to target their anger and hurt at one another. I chose instead to use their mutual grief as an unusual catalyst for a friendship. Some critics have mentioned surprise at the girls’ decision to jet set around the world within a few days of knowing one another. It’s true that the story begs a certain suspension of disbelief. But the betrayal itself was surreal in its melodrama, so it makes sense to me that the girls would bond in an effort to grapple with their ensuing emotions. Who else in the world besides Lena and Aubrey could have known in that moment what it felt like to be Lena and Aubrey? They could have rejected one another or leaned on one another, and they chose the latter. This is what I’m hoping my readers will remember.  

Anne Heltzel was born in Ohio and earned her MFA from the New School. She's written two other novels: CIRCLE NINE and THE RUINING (published under Anna Collomore). Anne is a book editor who lives in Brooklyn.