Part book review, part impressionistic scribblings on the joys of reading and the struggles of carving out time in which to do it,
#ABookishYear is a weekly dispatch from the front lines of an intellectual journey spanning fifty-two tomes.
A Regrettable Read
By Roxanne Fequiere
Have you ever looked back on a specific moment in your personal history, and realized, with frightening clarity, exactly how naive you were? After reading this week’s romance, I reflected on the two that preceded it and the essays I’d written about them. I gathered my thoughts and offered earnest appraisals, albeit with hints of snark. I was slightly amused yet irritated by what I felt were the genre’s well-worn grooves, but eager to find more stories that would exceed my expectations. Then I read Kristen Zimmer’s The Gravity Between Us, and I suddenly felt I’d been perhaps too harsh in my previous evaluations. How could I have known how much worse things could get?
The Gravity Between Us is the story of Payton Taylor and Kendall Bettencourt, two childhood gal pals from New Jersey. Kendall’s acting career has led her to the West Coast, where she’s become one of Hollywood’s hottest up-and-coming pretty young things. Meanwhile, Payton, an aspiring composer, attends a local college in their hometown while living at home with her mother. Though the girls occupy different worlds, they’re in constant contact and Kendall makes frequent trips back east. It’s during one of these visits that Payton comes out of the closet to her best friend—what she doesn’t share is that she’s hopelessly in love with Kendall.
Not long after Payton’s partial confession, Kendall catches herself thinking about her best friend as more than just a friend. In an utterly fantastical flourish, she treats Payton to dinner for two at the local music shop for her birthday, where she reveals she’s purchased an entire studio’s worth of equipment as a gift. What’s more, she’s arranged for Payton to travel across the country, move into her guest room, and attend a prestigious music academy in Los Angeles on a full scholarship. You can, more or less, guess what happens next.
As much as the other romances I’d read up until this point dabbled in cliché, stilted dialogue, and pure wish fulfillment in lieu of a plot, I can’t say I wasn’t entertained. In spite of my qualms, I appreciated that they were breezy, cheerful reads, the sort of thing you might read in one sitting if you so please. I compared them to romantic comedies because I could see how, with the right edits, their snacky appeal could easily be translated into an big screen crowd pleaser. There were times when I knew exactly what was going to happen next, but it was still fun to find out if I was right as I turned to the next page.
All this to say: I wasn’t bored. About halfway through The Gravity Between Us, however, I put it down and noticed that I had zero interest in what was to come. For a couple of days, I actively avoided getting back into the story. Every character was two-dimensional with a strict purpose: Payton’s cool, accepting mom, who laughed off her daughter’s coming out, claiming she’d always known; Kendall’s shrill, bigoted mom, who chalked up her daughter’s coming out to a “lifestyle choice” and insisted she just hadn’t met the right man yet; there’s an uptight publicist who insists on having his talent escorted around town by a hunky male actor; many nameless men who insist on staring at Payton’s chest.
Even among the main characters, you’d be hard-pressed to discern any distinct character traits. Other books take stabs at this by at least establishing some minor trait, like an insistence on coffee first thing in the morning or an odd hobby. For Payton and Kendall, aside from music and acting, respectively, their only idiosyncrasy appears to be unparalleled beauty that makes everyone around them lose their minds, and an all-consuming love for each other that neither of them seem to be able to voice aloud. It makes for a frustratingly repetitive and drawn-out plot.
Eventually, I dragged myself across the finish line, scanning the closing pages with a heaviness behind my eyes, willing it to be over. There was a predictably cheery epilogue in which all the characters’ conflicts—literally, every single one—was tied up in a nice bow. For a moment, I considered that it had been a fairy tale all along: the blinding beauty, the comically one-note good and evil characters, the happy ending. Then I remembered that fairy tales are stories that have rooted themselves in various cultures and communities across several centuries for a reason. No matter what the actual plot, they don’t bore the audience.
Roxanne Fequiere is a New York–based writer and editor who might just make it after all.