More happy reading experiences, this time featuring electronic communication.
There are lots of debates around Romanceland about the importance of accuracy in historical romance, but far fewer that are obviously about “temporal” accuracy in contemporary romance. If you pay attention, though, the discussions are there: the complaints about idealized small towns where Walmart hasn’t killed the mom and pop businesses (a Mayberry nod seems timely today); about authors who don’t get various professions right; about characters who don’t talk or act like real twenty- or thirty-somethings today.
I’ve read many contemporary romances where the characters may occasionally talk on the phone, but don’t e-mail, text or IM. Even middle-aged moms like me arrange dates with friends and family primarily by text or e-mail these days. If my teen and I are doing it, young lovers should be too (oh man, that came out wrong). So it was refreshing to enjoy a couple of books where the couples fell in love partly via contemporary electronic communication.
Sophie Kinsella, I’ve Got Your Number (audio narrated by Jayne Entwistle)
I have Issues with chick lit. The humor is often too slapstick for my taste, and too much at the expense of the heroine; it relies on her being a bigger idiot than any woman I know. As with reality TV, the cringe humor makes me anxious, not amused. Kinsella’s Shopaholic series is on my “never in a million years” list based on the title alone. On the other hand, I enjoyed Remember Me? a kind of anti-chick lit in which the heroine awakens after an accident to find she’s forgotten the last three years of her life. In the interim she had accomplished every Bridget Jones clone’s dream: the make-over, the dream job and the hot guy. But she doesn’t much like the person she’s become in the process. The story raised surprisingly complex and engaging questions about the nature of success and happiness.
So when I saw people giving good reviews to I’ve Got Your Number and highlighting the texts between Poppy and Sam as a big part of the charm, I decided to try it (I love epistolary novels, and this has a lot of those elements updated). It’s hard to give a detailed review of an audiobook, so I refer you to the links above. Entwistle’s slightly breathless and girlish style was perfect for the Poppy’s first-person narration. At times Poppy’s insecurity, obtuseness, and meddling in Sam’s life (she finds his former PA’s discarded phone and begins reading and responding to his e-mails) drove me nuts, but in audio, where I could be doing something else as I listened, the annoyance was never too great. I loved the urban (London) setting and Poppy’s circle of friends, both of which are common in chick lit but can be harder to find in contemporary romance.
The way that Poppy and Sam get to know and like each other via texts and other electronic means did indeed feel contemporary; Kinsella did a great job of giving them distinct and appropriate voices in these various modes of communication. Each has something to learn from the other, but while they initially seem like opposites, they also turn out to have a fair bit in common. The book is funny–I may have laughed out loud while walking the dog–and sweet, with great chemistry between Poppy and Sam even though they aren’t physically together for much of the time. I’d love to see more of this kind of slow-developing relationship and “conversation” and less insta-lust and sex in romance.
Delphine Dryden, How to Tell a Lie
Allison (Psychology) and Seth (Economics) are professors whose research work takes them into online multiplayer games. [Note: these people are way too secure and work far too few evening and weekend hours to be fully believable very-early-career academics, which at 30ish they would be; but I don’t know that I’d want to read about them if they were. The research parts were good, though.] I know nothing about this world, but Dryden made it feel authentic to me: she captured the appeal without poking fun at characters for being geeky. Allie’s work is on cues that someone is lying in non-face-to-face communication, and this theme is woven throughout the story in really clever ways: she’s aware not only of when Seth is lying to her (almost never) but when she’s lying to him/herself (more often) about she wants.
They meet in the game and then discover at the story’s opening that they work at the same place in real life and can see each other from their office windows. Their online, anonymous flirting has been safe for Allie, in particular, and she’s wary about moving into a real life relationship. They have cyber sex (via message and voice chat) after they meet but before they have “real” sex. I thought Dryden used the online interactions really effectively to keep the sexual tension going even in a “hot” book where sex is part of the relationship early on, something that can be hard to pull off. It also meant that the chemistry between them was intellectual and emotional as well as purely sexual, which I loved and don’t see enough. The ending felt abrupt and a more tentatively hopeful resolution would have been more convincing at that point in the relationship than what we got, but I smiled my way through this book.
What I enjoyed about both these books was that the “epistolary” elements created a fun, flirty chemistry between the characters, something I also found in the e-mails in Barbara Hannay’s Molly Cooper’s Dream Date (reviewed in the epistolary link above). I’d love recommendations for more books with a relationship that develops in part via texts, e-mails, etc. (and yes, I know that’s a much-praised aspect of A Certain Trilogy).