The Behavior of Love: Virginia Reeves

★★★★

Virginia Reeves’ The Behavior of Love is a beautiful, heartbreaking, and wickedly honest story of the wonderful and detrimental sides of love & ambition and living with the repercussions of one’s life.

The Behavior of Love, Virginia Reeves

Thank you very much to Scribner for this free review copy!

Ed is a behavioral psychologist whose career has landed him as superintendent of a mental institution in rural Montana. The institution is falling apart, and Ed has gleefully accepted the task of piecing it back together. A patient, Penelope, has been institutionalized for epilepsy, but she does not belong there. She is a bright, charismatic teenage girl, and Ed makes it his mission to get her back into the real world where she belongs.

Ed’s wife, Laura, knows all about Penelope, because Ed never stops talking about her. It’s clear that this doctor-patient relationship is not run-of-the-mill. When Laura starts volunteering at the institution once a week, she can sense the energy between her husband and this teenage girl.

As Ed begins to neglect his wife in favor of Penelope and the institution, Laura wonders if she can regain his attention and keep it for good. This is an honest love story – one of pain and difficult decisions and deception and small moments of love. It’s also a story of living with the repercussions of the mistakes you’ve made and of starting new.

Content Warning

Please take caution while reading The Behavior of Love if any of the following topics may trigger you:

  • Death or dying
  • Pregnancy / childbirth
  • Mental illness and ableism

Special note: This book is set in a mental institution in the 70’s. As such, it is not 2019-politically correct.

My Thoughts

Wow. Just, wow. I loved this book. It reads quickly – almost like a thriller – and with so much raw, yet somehow subdued, emotion. Reeves is able to evoke feelings of pity, desire, regret, disgust, sympathy, and jealousy so effortlessly that it’s almost a surprise when you feel so strongly.

This is a quick read, both because the paragraph and chapter structures are, at times, bite-sized and because the story is evolving so quickly that you’re effectively sucked in. While the characters aren’t exactly likable, their lives and growth through the story are very compelling and will keep you reading well into the night to see how they turn out.

I’m the type of reader who doesn’t require a big climax – I’m fine with the story ebbing and flowing naturally to a conclusion. But boy, did The Behavior of Love have quite a turning point. At once delicious and heart-shattering, this turn in the narrative will leave you reeling. Reeves’ exploration of such ambitious themes as mental illness and handicap, marriage, and regret will deeply touch your heart.

As I mentioned in the content warning, this book is set in the ’70s and is not politically correct for today’s standards. Some phrasings can be shocking to read through a 2019 lens, so make sure to take that with a grain of salt. For me, this was in no way a detractor to the story – in fact, I felt that it added to the authenticity of the period and to the general careless and clueless nature of the characters.

The Behavior of Love is such a special novel. It truly blew me away. Wickedly interesting and heartbreaking, you’ll fly through this story and mourn how quickly it was over. The nature of the story is quite dark, but the expert writing keeps it from feeling too morbid. This is not a feel-good story, but it is exceptionally affecting, and I recommended it to lovers of serious literary fiction.


Thank you so much for taking the time to read my thoughts on The Behavior of Love. I’d love to hear your thoughts on the novel in the comments or at my Instagram, @bookmarkedbya!

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