I said a few weeks ago that I was concerned about this one. I had read a couple reviews that painted it as a bit of a non-traditional rom-com, maybe one that doesn’t hit all the expected beats, and doesn’t end quite the way one would expect.
That made me a little nervous because I really don’t like sad books, and the predictability in a really unpredictable world is one of the big reasons I keep coming back to this genre.
But I really liked Henry’s People We Meet on Vacation, so I soldiered on.
A romance writer who no longer believes in love and a literary writer stuck in a rut engage in a summer-long challenge that may just upend everything they believe about happily ever afters.
Augustus Everett is an acclaimed author of literary fiction. January Andrews writes bestselling romance. When she pens a happily ever after, he kills off his entire cast.
They’re polar opposites.
In fact, the only thing they have in common is that for the next three months, they're living in neighboring beach houses, broke, and bogged down with writer's block.
Until, one hazy evening, one thing leads to another and they strike a deal designed to force them out of their creative ruts: Augustus will spend the summer writing something happy, and January will pen the next Great American Novel. She’ll take him on field trips worthy of any rom-com montage, and he’ll take her to interview surviving members of a backwoods death cult (obviously). Everyone will finish a book and no one will fall in love. Really.
And here’s the thing. It’s not a traditional rom-com, not in any way that I could see. When our charaters come together, they are in pretty dark places. January’s beloved father has just died, and left her a beach house that he lived in with a woman who was not January’s mother. January is going to clear out the house and sell it, and try to come to terms with a father who was not at all who she thought he was.
Gus is also completely closed off, for reasons that don’t become clear until probably a third of the way in, but it’s obvious that he is looking for solitude.
As neighbors, they are wary. Neither of them is looking for a friend. Being lovers is quite literally the last thing that either of them wants. Even as they start to spend time together, it feels very much like spending time with your brother’s best friend in college. There is affection there, but also a cheeky undertone. It’s not quite mocking…but it’s not quite NOT, either. They are having fun…but they are both quite aware that it’s not serious fun.
And then they strike the deal, and from there, their friendship grows…but it still FEELS like friendship. This is the slowest-moving rom-com I have read…but that is, in the end, all of its charm.
Cause this relationship feels real. It doesn’t feel manufactured for readers. It feels like every beat could happen. Has happened. We have all had a relationship with someone that starts like this, and we have all had that day where taking the piss becomes fraught with a kind of surprising subtext.
I talk about supporting characters in rom-coms quite a bit, typically feeling like a strong supporting cast is what can elevate an ordinary narrative. The thing is, in this book, there isn’t much of a supporting cast at all. There’s a bookstore owner and her wife, who do end up being unexpectedly important, and there is an out-of-town bestie who plays a minor-but-pivotal role. There are a handful of townies whose names I have forgotten, because they were irrelevant in the end. There is an editor, who is nothing more than a plot point. There is the specter of an ex-wife and a deceased father, but they are just that…specters. And that’s all ok, because this is not an ordinary narrative. This book is quite literally all about the two main characters, and it’s rendered with such affection and realism that you don’t care about a wacky neighbor. If there were one, it would be an unwelcome distraction from the main point, which is the journey we are on with our completely clueless, relationship-averse leads.
In the end, this was a hopeful book, and the best sort of hopeful ,which is hopeful in the face of knowing that the world is not a hopeful place. Choosing hope in that case is quite a powerful statement.
I loved it, in case that was unclear. If you are someone who is up for the journey, I can’t recommend it enough. Solid A from me.