TBR Challenge: The Wrong Man, by Delaney Diamond

This month’s TBR Challenge theme is contemporary romance. I figured it was time for a diverse read. I’m pretty sure Delaney Diamond’s The Wrong Man, which is both cross-class and inter-racial romance, was in my TBR because Ridley recommended it. Plus, it’s fairly short and I’m in the middle of end-of-term grading.

I really liked the premise of: Talia is African-American, an upper-middle-class, career-focused, recently divorced woman, raised by a grandmother who insisted on perfection and whose ex describes her as cold. She wears heels to Home Depot. Tomas is a construction foreman, Cuban immigrant, and–well, if this were a Regency, he’d be a rake. He’s The Wrong Man for Talia. Sure, this is a cliché, like so many romance set-ups (earthy man rocks uptight woman’s world and shows her how to live, or vice versa), but when it’s done well it’s one I enjoy. This set-up reminded me a bit of the movie Something New.

The Wrong Man is about 150 pages and my feelings were: first 50 pages, pretty good!; second 50, too much sex in proportion to everything else; final 50, big conflicts resolved too quickly, and with a plot twist I hate. (I will spoil it later). Talia and Tomas know each other through mutual friends; they’ve always liked sparring with each other, now she’s single, and you know what comes next, despite their initial resistance. The middle used sex as a short-cut for their growing intimacy. The sex scenes were well-written and I enjoyed reading them. But what about the rest of their lives? Talia is supposedly dedicated to her career, yet she and Tomas never talk about it. The main scene set at her work is when Tomas lures her into stairwell sex, making her late for a meeting with her boss. This made me a) see Talia’s character as inconsistent and b) see her as a fool. Then in the last third all the looming tensions over their class differences and different life goals (country boy who wants a family, city girl who chose career ahead of kids), not to mention the way Talia can’t stand up to her grandmother, blow up big and are resolved too quickly. (I did like that race and culture differences were never seen as problems, except maybe by Talia’s grandmother.)

OK, about that spoiler. Stop here if you don’t want to read it.

Talia gets pregnant. Because she was a couple of weeks late getting her Depo shot. This is a woman who was married for ten years but refused to “give her husband children” because she put her career first. She never, of course, considers abortion. Look. People change their minds and I felt I was supposed to see this as a sign of how Talia was unconsciously (and then more consciously) falling in love with Tomas; he changes her, helps her see what really makes her happy vs. what pleases her grandmother. And I also know that a lot of pregnancies are accidental. But I have never known a highly-educated, career-focused woman who didn’t want a kid who was not super careful about birth control.

So again, it was hard to see Talia as a consistent, believable character and this felt like a plot point used solely to push the resolution forward faster. Which wasn’t at all necessary, because other things, like Talia’s decision not to invite Tomas to one of her grandmother’s stuffy parties (where her grandmother plans to introduce her to some Right Men), bring the conflicts to a head just fine: does Talia think he’s beneath her, do they really care about each other, can they make a go of this? all those questions are raised without the baby. I was interested in the conflicts, but they didn’t get the time and space that would do them justice.

At the end of the book, Talia, who never learned to cook because servants did that, is about to make pancakes. This conclusion made me feel that far from Tomas being The Wrong Man, she was The Wrong Woman–her career focus, her upscale clothes, her urban loft: wrong. A mom making pancakes in her country house: right. The only change Tomas makes is deciding he can be monogamous, which is a big deal, of course, but it isn’t shown as a huge change the way Talia’s is. She fits in with his life. This didn’t sit well with me.

I did enjoy reading The Wrong Man, but the intriguing premise wasn’t fleshed out enough. Ultimately, I didn’t care much about these people because they, especially Talia, didn’t feel real to me. I had to make a lot of assumptions and fill in a lot of gaps to believe in their relationship.

The main reason I’ve read so much less romance lately is because too much of what I’ve read is like this. There’s so much unrealized potential, it’s frustrating to read. I think the current romance publishing environment, with its pressure to produce at a very fast rate, is a big part of the problem. It’s not because romance writers are worse than other writers, but I don’t think this is a climate in which most authors can do their best work. I don’t know if it’s how I pick books in different genres or the different publishing context in romance, but the undercooked book is something I encounter more often in this genre.

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22 Responses to TBR Challenge: The Wrong Man, by Delaney Diamond

  1. Rohan says:

    This is very interesting to me partly because the failings you describe with this particular book are the ones I used to (before your and others’ intervention!) assume were endemic in romance as a genre. You read much more widely in the genre than I do and I don’t doubt your observation that things might be getting worse in terms of authors rushing work into print and so forth — but I’m now so glad that you all pushed me to realize how unfair it is to overgeneralize hastily about romance based on bad examples. My being a late-comer to the genre means I have a lot of “old” (even “classic”) titles that I still haven’t read or authors I haven’t explored, which may be skewing my reading towards better examples. I think it is also possible to experience periods of genre fatigue — this is how I currently feel about most mystery novels. When I pick up a new one, I get quickly tired by what seems like creaking machinery, too-familiar moves in setting the whole thing up. (I’m hoping my year off teaching the mystery fiction class will help me get past this!)

    Anyway, thought-provoking post as always — thanks!

    • Liz Mc2 says:

      I was thinking about this precisely in terms of genre fatigue–for instance, when I was first reading romance and reading a lot of it, the way an author worked with familiar tropes was fascinating to me. Now, characters/plots are much more likely to feel like “just tropes” to me. So I do think part of the change is in me.

      More balance in my reading has helped. Romance is not all terrible by a long shot, but it does have particular aims, and broad as the genre is, there are lots of things it can’t do or won’t write about, and I need those things in my reading. When romance made up too much of my reading diet, I blamed it for not giving me those things–but that wasn’t fair. I don’t think the pendulum has swung back for me yet, but it’s getting better.

      This book was an enjoyable way to pass a few hours, and that’s not something to sneeze at. But I think it could have been that and still been better developed, without huge changes. It felt like the bones of a richer book. When my reading time is limited, I don’t want to settle for that.

  2. On a sidenote, of all the birth controls to choose if you want to feature accidental pregnancy in your book Depo is definitely not the way to go. That stuff stays in your system for up to a year after and a lot of women have trouble getting pregnant after it, certainly never as soon as a couple weeks after missing a shot, and women will often have a miscarriage the first time they succeed at getting pregnant once off the shot.

  3. I have come to despise when the woman makes all the changing and adjusting, almost as much as the accidental pregnancy trope and the who needs condoms trope. Like, why wasn’t she using a condom with male rake she doesn’t even know, Depo or no Depo.

    Thanks for the spoiler.

  4. As to getting pregnant in these books, I still remember the Mills and Boon days as a kid. I thought a woman got pregnant if a man blinked at her, the way it was happening in every book. It seemed no relationship could move forward without an unplanned baby ensuring you were stuck with each other. One would swear condoms hadn’t been invented yet.

  5. SuperWendy says:

    So this all sounded very intriguing and….well, thanks for the spoiler. Because if I had read that unaware I would have chucked my Kindle across the room. And I kinda love my Kindle 🙂

  6. Liz Mc2 says:

    When I got to the part where Talia made a doctor’s appointment because she’d been feeling sick the last couple of mornings, I was just going “Nooooooooooo!”

    But much as I dislike accidental pregnancy as a way to get the couple together, I did think it was interesting how this one was depicted in kind of wish-fulfillment ways. For instance, Tomas steps up instantly to say he wants to give the baby his name, etc. (and this is a guy who, a couple of months before, Talia wasn’t sure she was in an exclusive relationship with–so yeah, they sure as hell should have been using condoms more than just the first time). And in the epilogue there’s a line about how he’s a great dad and she doesn’t even have to nag him to change diapers. I just took for granted that equal sharing in parenting would be part of the life I built for myself, and this made me think about how many people still don’t/can’t take that for granted, and why some people might really enjoy this trope. It still didn’t work for me.

    Which is a shame, because I did like the way Diamond dealt with some other tropes that aren’t favorites. For instance, Talia may start by slapping her ex when he shows up at a party her friends host with his new, much younger girlfriend (Talia was also a lot younger than he was–I think she was 19 and he was 33 when they married). But later they have good conversation and a friendly relationship, and wish each other happiness, and he’s not cast as a villain. That was nice.

  7. I was intrigued by the summary and your description of the first part, but that spoiler would have made me really angry. There are few things I dislike more than inconsistent character actions/development. Like you, I understand people change, but I want to be shown the reason behind that in the books I read. Thanks for the informative and entertaining review!

  8. Sunita says:

    I DNF’d a TBR Challenge book last year, coincidentally in the same month, because of the same plot twist. It also featured a work-focused heroine who found herself pregnant and the only reaction she had was happiness. Which, OK, I’m happy she’s happy, but for heaven’s sake foreshadow that a bit in the chapters where you tell me how dedicated to her profession she is. In this case, the fact that she spent ten years avoiding a pregnancy within her marriage makes it even less believable to me. It’s not about the pregnancy, it’s about the characterization. But I think the fact that it happens SO much in romances is because (a) romance is still pretty baby-centric, overall; and (b) it is a sure-fire way to move the plot forward.

    Unrealized potential is a really good way to put it. I feel as if too many romances take a kitchen-sink approach to plot and relationship, and I’m sure the crazy publishing schedule that is treated as the norm is part of the reason.

    • Kaetrin says:

      If there’s a conflict where the hero wants kids and the heroine doesn’t, it seems that what always happens in romance genre novels is that the woman either changes her mind or gets accidentally pregnant. I don’t think I’ve ever read a book where the hero changes his mind to stay with the heroine. If there are any around, I’d like to read them!

  9. azteclady says:

    First: I love the conversation!

    When you first described the premise, I immediately thought of Something New, and almost cheered out loud–and more so because while Talia is the successful, career oriented, overachieving black woman, Tomas is not white, but Latino. There are

    • azteclady says:

      Sorry about that, my cats just jumped on the keyboard! (they are doing that crazy thing where they chase each other all over the house, up and down furniture, in and out of rooms for a quarter of an hour, until they are exhausted and curl up to sleep for three hours or so)

      I was saying: There are cultural barriers between people of color from different cultures, just as much as there are between people of color and white people, but we see far fewer of these pairings in romance, so that also was something to cheer about.

      But even without the accidental pregnancy, which is one of the cliches that get the genre lampooned by non-readers, the inconsistent characterization would have annoyed me. Giving characters a background–successful professional, career driven, family expectations, etc–and then have the character behave in ways a real person never would (stairwell sex, at your place of employment????), feels to me like a cheap way to make the story stand out as something novel (or, if I’m feeling really cynical, to take advantage of people associating the setup with the movie), while bowing to the most generic romance tropes: she was only waiting for the right man, and of course it’s she who will make her life fit with his. Dog forbid there’s compromise, let alone him fitting his life to hers.

      /rant

      Also, on the genre fatigue bit, I think this is a large factor for some of us–we’ve read widely in the genre, and we have probably read some really great examples, so when we are hit over and over and over with ‘undercooked’ stories (love the term!), we grow disenchanted.

      (Apologies for the long and rambling comment, by the way)

      • Liz Mc2 says:

        I really miss the days when everything I found in romance felt fresh and exciting. I don’t want to be old and cynical. I am trying to turn off my inner critic more. I really did like the premise, and I thought she Diamond did a great job with Tomas’ background and culture as part of the relationship–it shaped him and he wanted to introduce Talia to it–without making it a huge barrier to them being together. There is a good scene where Tomas and his friends are careful to speak English in front of Talia, except one woman who of course wants to shut her out and lay claim to Tomas. Talia calls Tomas out on this and it becomes one of the turning points in their relationship. I think it was really well done moments that made me frustrated, because they showed she can do convincing character development.

        I felt the stairwell sex was meant to show how swept away by Tomas she was and how he was changing her priorities, but it was just too much.

        • azteclady says:

          I’m with you on trying to turn the inner critic off; sadly, I’m really not succeeding much with this myself at the moment.

          It’s funny that you mention how the well written, well done bits that made you more…impatient? would that be correct for you? with the parts that were more sketched than realized. I’m going through that, exactly, with the novel I’m reading (yeah, still reading) for this month’s TBR Challenge. There are these flashes where I’m totally invested in what’s going on…and then we move on, and I realize I really don’t care all that much about the protagonists or the story. I’m giving it another 50 pages; if I don’t get over the blahs, I’ll have to do a DNF. (What bothers me about it in this case is that it’s quite likely more than I’m in a filthy reading mood, than the book/writing voice)

  10. Dorine says:

    Great review and thanks for the spoiler!

  11. Yeah, one thing I tend to steer clear of in my romances is the trope where an accidental pregnancy brings the couple together. I think it’s because the fun of a romance novel is in the two people choosing each other, and when there’s a baby in the mix, that choice isn’t quite as choicey, if that makes sense? Or at least, it’s that they’re choosing each other on behalf of a unit (the family they make all together) rather than purely on the other person’s merits.

    At least, I think that is why I hate that trope. It might also be because I am perpetually terrified of getting pregnant even though I am more careful about birth control than anyone I know, and I do not LIKE to have my pregnancy fears magnified in books I read. :p

    • Liz Mc2 says:

      That’s really interesting, because I love marriage of convenience and its variants–I’m interested in two people being stuck together and having to find a way to make it work. So maybe part of my problem is that the accidental pregnancy trope rarely plays out that way. It’s like “Oh, you’re having my baby, I DO love you it was meant to be” more often than “how are we going to figure this thing out” and learning to love through working together.

      I will say, though, that the MOC trope works better for me in historicals. The contemporary variants that work best are things like romantic suspense or a workplace story or something where they have a problem to solve as a team that forces them together. There are so many contemporary alternatives to “you’re pregnant? we must marry and give the baby my name” that are never considered, and that’s wildly unrealistic.

      • Janine Ballard says:

        Terrific review and really great points in this comment. I would actually love to read a historical where the couple get into a marriage of convenience due to an unplanned pregnancy, but I can’t think of many like that.

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