What is a relationship? And what constitutes a good relationship? There are infinite varieties of human connections, and yet in Three Little Words, Jenny Holiday gives her protagonists the onus and latitude to explore the depth and breadth of these two questions and how they pertain to the two of them.
Gia Gallo and Bennett Buchanan are bridesmaid and best man, respectively, in their best friends’ wedding. This is the only tie they have.
Their lives couldn’t be any different. Gia is a super model with no fixed home. She lives out of a suitcase in fabulous locations all around the world — her exceptional beauty translating into wealth. Bennett is a Southern transplant to NYC with deep roots in Charleston. He is a celebrated chef serving superbly crafted Cajun food in his restaurant to high-paying and non-paying clientele. She does not know what to do with her riches; he does not know how to pay for his dream of opening a charitable restaurant. You would think that this would be the meet cute of their relationship. But nothing by Holiday is as obvious as that.
Both of their childhoods were marked by the depredations against their psyche by their cold, strong-willed, domineering mothers.
Gia has been made to feel unloved and incapable of love with her only value her beauty. But to him, her beauty is incidental to who she is. What is truly important to him is her “Gia Effect” as he calls it — how she makes the world a better place for those around her by sensing what they need and providing it to them. He shows her how her casual sexual hookups are not the only association she can have with a man. She wants to always be the one to leave before someone throws her over. She feels men are drawn to her beauty and shallow meaningless links are all she will have with them. He shows her how much more meaningful an emotional connection in a long-term relationship is for the heart and soul. With him, she feels seen and appreciated for who she is deep down, not her surface shell. He gives her back to herself – whereas, she was looking outward to her value, he has her look inward to seek her true value.
Bennett was thrown out of the house in his late teens for his drug habit. He only survived to have the chance at a life of beauty and achievement because of the kindness of a Charleston chef, who plucked him off the streets and through tough love gave him the discipline and training to develop his talent with food. He goes on to NYC to seek fame and fortune, but his Southern origins are deeply embedded in his heart. She shows him how it is possible to have Charleston back in his life and how to deal with the estrangement with his family, which has been silently tearing him apart.
The three friends Gia made in college have been the bulwark against the stark back-biting world of her profession. Similarly, Bennett’s best friend is his anchor in the competitive world of NYC restaurant business. But with each other, Gia and Bennett find something more precious than what they have with their friends — that is an understanding and an acceptance that is bone-deep and constant.
She admits to him that she has a problem with food. When younger women with thinner bodies are coming up fast behind her, her age and slowing metabolism are cannibalizing her career. She is terrified that without modeling, she has no skills to survive, so the only thing she can control is what she puts in her mouth. He admits, not in so many words, that he is continually atoning for his years-old drug habit that ruined two lives. He keeps a tight rein on all his impulses because only in strictly molding himself into his ideal of a man will he be personally successful.
They shore each other up. They shake each other out of their complacency. They share their innermost fears knowing that those feelings will be treated with exquisite care and understanding. They show each other a world that is different from their assumptions. They hold up a mirror to each other so they can recognize and celebrate the wonderfulness lurking beneath the surface. Yes, there is the trust and respect without which no relationship can go forward, but there is so much more to their connection than that. Every moment together, they show each other how much they treasure them. And treasure is the word here, because so far in their lives, neither of them has had anyone who treasured them. They both grow taller and closer in the sunlight of that regard.
Holiday is a writer who truly understands how to craft deeply meaningful contemporary stories because of her nuanced understanding of modern human emotions. I have read the other novels and novellas in the Bridesmaids Behaving Badly series, and they are all wonderful. A series worth investing your reading time in.