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.
On Crushes and Conversations
By Roxanne Fequiere
Alexa and Drew, the two main characters of Jasmine Guillory’s The Wedding Date meet less than a page into the book’s first chapter. Alexa, excited to see her sister, steps into a hotel elevator which promptly stops working mid-ascent. It’s at this point that she notices a handsome man standing in the elevator with her, and the following exchange takes place:
“Were you here this whole time?”
“What am I, a genie?”
“I guess you don’t really look like a genie.”
“Thank you, I think. But isn’t that what a genie would say? Are you claustrophobic?”
“Um, I don’t think so. Why, were you going to bust us out of here with your genie powers if I said I was?”
“I guess you’ll never know if I’m a genie now.”
I’ve stripped away the prose in between these snippets of dialogue to keep this excerpt streamlined, but no amount of descriptive text can explain away two strangers saying the word genie to each other that many times times in the course of about fifteen seconds. (It comes up again a few moments later when they properly introduce themselves: “Alexa, and you, Genie?”)
The characters’ exchange continues on like this in the opening scene—weirdly stilted, but clearly meant to be read as playful banter. After a short while stuck in the elevator together, the premise of the plot had been established: Drew, a hot young doctor just in town for the wedding of an ex and dateless at the last minute, asks Alexa on a whim if she’ll accompany him. Unlikely, but somehow not as unlikely as that initial conversation. My journey into romance novels was off to a rocky start.
I could guess what was going to happen next, more or less—I’m sure you can, too. What I didn’t foresee was the enthusiasm with which I greeted the events of the plot once it got into full swing. When Alexa got a text from Drew asking her if she was free for essentially a weekend-long dick appointment, I silently cheered her on. When the story progressed to the appointment in question, I caught myself smirking in anticipation like a certain Sheree Whitfield GIF. Either the prose had improved, or I was just happy to overlook it on behalf of a touch of smut.
After the book was over, I scoured the Internet in search of opinions from readers more well-versed in romance than me. I wanted to know if they, too, thought the characters were a bit too thinly sketched; the non-love scenes a bit too cursory; the plot a bit too easily resolved if those characters would just have one adult conversation. I wanted to know if this was par for the course with novels like this, or if the smut is supposed to be the main (and only) attraction. Maybe focusing on these details makes me a killjoy—after all, don’t we all tend to be more forgiving than usual of flaws embedded in things that make us smile?
In my research, I found folks who echoed some of my thoughts, though the vast majority of the chorus was thoroughly charmed by its sweet premise (“a Hallmark movie in novel form,” as one reviewer put it) and steamy sex scenes. They praised it for featuring an interracial couple (Alexa is black and Drew is white), and more importantly, for having the characters address their differences in the book. They enjoyed the fact that Alexa is an explicitly curvy women and experiences a lot of realistic insecurities about her body, especially in the context of shedding her clothes in front of a man who is, by all accounts, ripped. They also liked the fact that when these two characters do hook up, they practice safe sex. Still a novice in the romance realm, I’m not sure if these things are anomalies or not in the genre, but seeing the novel through their eyes made me appreciate the bigger picture a bit more.
And yet: the nitpicker in me hasn’t quite let go of the notion that a charming, sexy, romp of a romance can still somehow ring a bit truer throughout. Then again, there’s always a chance that I’m missing the point completely—maybe, like encountering a new crush, the idea is to get swept up in the thrill of every minor interaction, the dizzying prospect of the handsome man standing in front of you liking you back. In those moments, the heartbeat races, senses are heightened, and you may very well be saying corny and nonsensical things to each other, but it hardly matters. This could be love.
Roxanne Fequiere is a New York–based writer and editor who might just make it after all.