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Why, hello there.
Welcome back to another book rant. Oh, boy. Spoiler alert, obviously. I’ve just finished writing about Devil in Spring by Lisa Kleypas. And now, I guess I’m unable to not write about Suddenly You. I’m going to try really hard not to cry while I write this. Or throw up. And once again, I can understand how hard it must be to write a book and get it published and have it sell. I’m certainly not looking forward to the task, if I ever undertake it. So, Lisa Kleypas, if you’re reading this, please remember that I know this book was published twenty years ago and you’ve come a long way since then, and I really loved Devil in Spring despite it’s problems, and I’m absolutely in love with Chasing Cassandra so far.
But…what happened, love? What was happening when you wrote Suddenly You?
This story had so much potential. I’m going to to start with what I really liked, so you know what I mean. I thought the premise was really original and funny – I’ve certainly never come across one like it so far. A nineteenth-century 30-year-old virgin ordering a prostitute for her birthday because she just wants to have sex already, and she’s basically given up on ever finding someone to marry. Relatable (sort of!), intriguing, and honestly a little funny.
And I was truly shocked when it turned out that the whole thing had been a trick/misunderstanding, and that the “prostitute” was actually Jack Devlin (I know it’s spelled Delvin, according to Google Books, but the voice actor pronounced it “Devlin,” and that’s how I’m choosing to say it.), the very young, very successful editor and publisher whom Amanda claims to hate. That was an interesting plot twist. The whole time-constrained affair thing was quite sensible, and I was definitely surprised when it didn’t turn out how I thought, with them coming to the end of the deadline and deciding that they wanted to stay together, a la Theo and Maddie from Wedding Party. The fact that Amanda has a reasonable conversation with an outside observer and decides that ending the affair is best for her, even if it’s painful, was definitely refreshing and unexpected. And Jack respects that and stays away from her as she requests. Even though I obviously knew that they would get back together, it was going to be interesting to find out when and how.
And I loved how Buddy (whose name I forget) decides that he loves Amanda whether she’s pregnant with Jack’s child or not. He insists that she does the right thing by telling Jack about the baby before they get married, because Amanda has decided that Jack shouldn’t know. This was an understandable, if misguided, decision. Jack was very clear in every word and action that he didn’t like children and did not want any of his own, and did not want to get married. Even if it’s probably wrong for both the child and the father to keep the child a secret, I might have done the same thing. So it was great that this was framed as problematic, and that Amanda shouldn’t take away Jack’s choice of whether to be involved in the child’s life.
I loved the description of how Jack was apparently willing to walk away from Amanda when she decided she needed to move on, and how that wrecked him, and I guess he realizes that his work wouldn’t satisfy him forever. It’s cute how in love he is with Amanda, but isn’t sure what to do with it. They have a real problem, because they want to be together, but other than that, they have very different dreams for their lives. Again, very relatable, especially when that unplanned and unwanted pregnancy happened. Very complicated in 19th century London society. Very complicated today.
I was genuinely heart-broken when their child died. Again, so complicated, because they got married just because of the child, and it would have been difficult whether Amanda had married Jack or the other guy, because both marriage proposals were based on her being pregnant. That was another setup for a very poignant exploration of whether a marriage of circumstance can withstand the invalidation of the circumstance. And whether you should marry for security or love. And exploring the thought that women must be with men who are older than them.
Also, the whole exploration of the publishing and editing world was amazing. It’s probably a niche interest, but I fall into that niche, so I loved that. Maybe I’ll be swept off my feet by someone in the book world in a similar way one day.
Jack’s backstory of being raised to believe he’s a useless mistake also landed well for me. It was truly captivating and heartbreaking to hear about.
And let me tell you, the voice actor for this gave it absolutely everything she had. Even singing. It was a stellar performance, and it almost made it enjoyable. Kudos to you, Beverly A. Crick. Not all heroes wear capes.
All of this! So many things to explore and delve into. If only these had been the only things in this story. I’m only just realizing now how much good there truly was. I must say, it was still an interesting book. I wanted to find out what would happen. I basically finished it, even if by the end it was incredibly tedious and frustrating and disappointing.
But nope. We wouldn’t be here if those were the only things. Once again, we are faced with so many problems related to what is framed as romantic. Paternalism. Coercion. Manipulation. Completely falling apart and turning to mush at the very thought of thinking about sex. Just turning these people into non-humans and ruining all of the potential character development. So many fascinating potential conflicts and plot points that end up being nothing. This whole story was a lot of potential and setup and buildup that either ended up being underwhelming and underutilized, or in the end amounted to diddly squat.
I guess I’m just going to get to it, no matter how painful it is. From the first five minutes, we have two problems: number one, Amanda has decided to go back on the whole prostitute thing, and Devlin still forces his way in. This is bad enough. Especially because this is the whole jumping off point of the story and it wouldn’t have progressed without this forced entry. But the real problem is that Jack knows that he’s not who she thinks he is, so that makes it double terrible that he not only forces his way in, but doesn’t clear up the confusion. This makes it EVEN WORSE that although Amanda says no at every single turn, he still insists on making himself at home, makes it clear that she’s not going to stop him from giving her the “birthday present,” and he generally behaves like an ass. But this whole five minutes sums up the entire story, because it gets really Fifty Shades by the fact that Amanda apparently likes being treated like this. In that weird way where she says no, she doesn’t want something, even if she is physically aroused, but he pushes and bullies and won’t take no for an answer, and then she kind of changes her mind I guess. But it’s displayed as her being so overcome by lust that she just forgets why she said no in the first place, partly because she is mentally overpowered by her partner’s refusal to take her lack of consent at face value, and then she enjoys the experience and tells herself that she was fine with it. Which is very, very different from her saying no, him insisting, and her doing it anyway because she actually changed her decision. Nope, apparently she’s some sort of robot with a sexual override button that completely shuts down all other systems when the story calls for it.
Ideally, when someone says no, EVEN IN A BOOK, it’s either accepted at face value, or the partners have a discussion about it. They don’t just keep insisting or using physiological manipulation tactics.
This sums up what happens in the book in pretty much every chapter.
There is what I’m beginning to think is a token scene with Kleypas novels where the roles are reversed and the woman is the one forcing the man. The good old carriage scene in this novel comes to mind. Jack is very clear that he doesn’t want to fully have sex in the carriage. Which is just gross in general, but he’s being quite rational about not wanting to have that mess in there. I guess. He tells her over and over that he just wants to wait until they are home, in a proper bed, but she just keeps trying to use his body against him to make him do it right then and there. To my son of the future and all other men and women out there, this is not okay. Consent, once given, can also be taken away, at any time, no guilt, no argument, no insisting that your body is out of control. You just stop.
So, this unbelievably toxic relationship starts off lies and coercion. Amanda says no to him coming into her house. She says no to her kissing him. She says no to manual stimulation. And Jack prides himself that he didn’t fully have sex with her under the pretense. Good job, dude. Oh, and he lies about his age from the get go, as well. So lies and bullying.
Let’s take a break and talk about the characters. Amanda is described by herself and others as “practical” and “stubborn.” But nope. She comes apart at the mere thought of sex, and never sticks to her decisions. She’s a puppet pulled around by the will and decisions of other characters. She is independent in that she’s made her own career and lives on her own, but she’s unbelievably codependent. Which I understand. Your first relationship is overwhelming, and all-consuming, and you don’t know what to do with all of those feelings. I can imagine this would be true even if your first relationship occurs at thirty. But I have to imagine that most thirty-year-olds would have a bit more sense than I did at eighteen. Unless I’m wrong?
Anyway, Amanda’s whole thing is that she thinks she’s unattractive. And she keeps going on about it. On and on and on, almost right up until the end. And at first it’s relatable. But it quickly becomes annoyingly cliche, and even more Fifty Shades. The woman who doesn’t know she’s beautiful and doesn’t understand why the man would be so hopelessly besotted with her. But it’s obvious the author feels that Amanda is beautiful. So it’s just so much dissonance, and tedium, and annoyingness.
Then there’s Jack. I don’t know that he’s explicitly mischaracterized. But his character is just all over the place, and he feels a bit like several different people. There’s the sexual assaulter who doesn’t care what the woman says, and then there’s the broken workaholic with daddy issues. And then there’s the one who will sacrifice his personal happiness to let the love of his life be happy. And there’s the fact that he works a desk job and travels by fancy carriage but is apparently ripped and jacked. Just another unrealistic standard. There’s a five-minute scene when he helps carry some boxes, but that’s all the exercise that is ever mentioned, as far as I can remember.
None of the other characters were particularly interesting or memorable. Buddy – Amanda’s writer friend who offers to marry her when she’s about to skip town to avoid the pregnancy scandal – also had a lot of potential. He showed strong sense of character, like I said, when he insisted that Amanda needs to give Jack the chance to know about the baby, and that if he truly doesn’t want to be involved it won’t be a problem. Buddy had some good scruples. But then the rest of it is just so disrespectful. The story disrespected his character so much. Like when Jack storms the party and forces himself on Amanda, touching and kissing her even though he knows that she’s in a relationship and about to be engaged. And the mother of all forcing when he threatens to BODILY TAKE HER TO HIS HOUSE even though she refuses multiple times, telling her that he’s very willing to embarrass her in front of her friends and cause a big scandal. He literally rips her away from her fiance, kidnaps her to his house, and basically rapes her because he wants to “claim her” and the baby from Buddy, and during this nasty sexual encounter, forces her to say yes to marry him. This is what happened. But once again, it’s framed as both of them being just so in love and passionate, and her once again just falling apart because she needs sex from him so much that she’s literally willing to do anything, hurt anyone, and go against what she believes to have it. And he just loves her and the child so much that he’s willing to do whatever it takes to keep them in his life.
I’m really, really trying not to throw up here, guys, but this isn’t even close to the end.
Buddy’s response to the whole thing is that he “just wants Amanda to be happy.” This reminds me a bit more of Karen Kingsbury’s Someone Like You where the guy who gets dumped is so “mature” and “caring” that he has zero feelings about being dumped by the girl that five minutes before he believed he loved enough to marry. Shrug emoji, slap on the back, and amble on out of there without a backward glance. Not at all how a normal human would behave, even if they did actually just want that girl to be happy. It was obvious that Buddy loved Amanda. To the point of being willing to put his reputation at risk by having a shotgun wedding with a bullet from another man. He fought for her not to go to Paris without trying to work things out first. Very reasonably pointing out that she will be looking over her shoulder forever and doing all this work to keep the secret, which might be found out at some point anyway. He was shown as such a strong and kind character, and I was rooting for him. But then his part in the story is hastily tied up in the most cliche, most infuriating way possible. Once again, it could have been more, but it ended up being nothing.
And once again, we get a yadda yadda wedding. Jack and Amanda. I wanted to be there, dammit! What’s a romance novel without a decent wedding scene?
Then they lose the baby. And for a little bit, it was a real story with real people. They are grieving. Jack is distraught because Amanda apparently shuts him out for the first time, and he says that he’s grieving alone. And I was thinking, when has her saying no ever mattered to you? Why don’t you just force her to do what you want?
I did not have long to wait.
After a conversation with Amanda’s very rational sister about not forcing himself on Amanda in her grief-stricken state, Jack does exactly what he’s always done. He is offended because he thinks Amanda’s sister is insinuating that he would force himself on Amanda physically. But she explains that she means emotionally. And he says he won’t do that either, and they have a moment of camaraderie where they come to a mutual understanding of each other. And that’s Amanda’s sister’s role tied up in a bow. And it ends up being nothing, because Jack learns nothing, and does exactly what he said he wouldn’t do. What he’s always done. And what he was apparently offended that she would think he would do.
Not only does he force Amanda to talk to him about the loss of the baby, but he also forces her to let him hold her, citing how it’s been so long or whatever. And this quickly slides into some shady sex. And I know that’s complicated. When couples are going through something like that, one of them might pull away and not be available to the other, who believes that they should be talking about the problem and trying to fix it. It happens. But again, after dozens of times of Jack just not respecting Amanda at all, it was just another tick on the list. And it was doubly disgusting because it came after Amanda saying she wanted to end the relationship, because it was based on him wanting to be there for the baby, who is now dead. So Jack goes full Christian Grey with doing whatever it takes to make her feel guilty and stay.
Never go full Grey, my dudes.
So again, this whole thing could have been a step toward character development,, but it’s the same thing. Amanda falls apart and lets Jack do whatever he wants, and they don’t have a mature discussion about what they want. Because all they want is sex. And that’s it.
And let’s not even get started on how that baby was made in the first place. Up until that point, Jack has shown incredible self-control with the dubious but popular-at-the-time pullout method, which is surprising considering neither one of them have been established to have sexual constraint. But then he just decides out of the blue that he’s just too overcome to follow through that one time. He decides, just in that moment. She gets zero say, and is under the impression that this was the kind of birth control they had agreed to. So again. Full on assault, if not rape, because at the moment that he decided to go against what she had consented to, he put a potential baby in her that she didn’t want.
Not legal advice. But just person advice. Don’t do this. You are not a sex machine. You have agency, and free will, and you can take a few deep breaths and get over the feels. I promise. And if you can’t, please seek medical attention and don’t rape people.
So. There’s some other stuff that happens, which I couldn’t really hear because my headphones are crap and the bus was loud. Should I have been listening to this book in Superstore at 10:30 at night? Probably not. But I guess Jack just keeps getting richer and more successful, and then Amanda starts wanting to get in on the action and become a magazine editor, and the new book they publish together is wildly successful. By the way, the whole thing with the subplot or whatever is that they are working on putting one of Amanda’s old stories into periodicals. This business arrangement is something else that he forced her into. She said she didn’t want that book to be published, and that it would embarrass her, but of course he knows better and says that he will either do it with her, or without her. And it’s a success. Yay.
Oh yeah. And then there’s the part where Amanda learns that Jack is not thirty-one, as he had told her, as she had believed all this time, but actually twenty-five. Twenty-five. I was shocked for her. I was horrified. Not only because this was a badly written twenty-five-year-old, very unbelievable. But just the lie. All the lies. If I, a twenty-four-year-old, was dating someone, and then married them thinking they were twenty-five, and I found out they were really nineteen, it wouldn’t matter how successful or responsible he was. That would just be a blow.
But I’m sure by now you know what happens. Do I even need to say it?
So, after yet another manipulative sexual encounter and refusal to respect Amanda’s wish to end the marriage, even if she maybe didn’t mean it, nothing else comes of this. They keep going. Nothing happens.
I think the growth is supposed to be that Amanda becomes one of the most popular editors in London, which is surprising because she’s a woman. And I guess Jack’s was supposed to be that he used to be a workaholic who didn’t want kids, but now he does want kids, and he works a little less. Or, maybe the growth is when Jack is using sex to force Amanda to say that she’s beautiful so that she will accept an expensive necklace that he’s gotten her. So, she didn’t think she was beautiful before. But I guess after a man screams at her to say it while holding her hostage through her sexual desires, she now believes it. Growth. They have another kid. And apparently another one on the way. And then it’s over. I didn’t listen to the last few minutes. Let me know if I missed anything that would change everything else.
Let’s throw in some honourable mentions. Amanda didn’t want anal. Jack gave her anal. Amanda didn’t want raspberries in her vagina. He put raspberries in her vagina. She didn’t want to have sex in the closet at the concert, and wanted to enjoy the show. So he makes her do it anyway. She tells him that she doesn’t want to meet him to talk about her book, and he says he’ll send a carriage for her anyway, and he does, and she takes it. He shows up to her house multiple times for dinner, which she initially doesn’t want, but eventually I guess she likes it.
Read this book if you want, I guess. Basically, some book publishing stuff happens, then there’s a personal conflict of some kind, which Jack brushes off, then forces her to have sex, then they forget about the conflict, and move on to the next thing. I swear, if you count, you’ll find at least twenty of these sex scenes. Maybe thirty. At one point, it was every five minutes. And then they lose their kid, but then they get two more. The end.
I think E.L. James must have read this at some point. Twilight fanfiction or not, Fifty Shades has so much in common with this book. And even though on a technical level Suddenly You is probably better, because the writing – descriptions, etc. – is more advanced and dynamic. But it’s worse than Fitty Shades because it could have been better. Fifty Shades is a write-off that can’t be redeemed. But Suddenly You had so much going for it, and still ended up like this. It’s just a deeper wound. I’m truly wounded by this book.
Can’t wait for the next one, though! Because I’m masochistically curious.
Did I mention how much I love Chasing Cassandra so far? Like I said in Part 1 of this review, there’s been no sex so far. It takes about a quarter of the book for Cassandra and Tom to even touch. They kiss, and have an amazing dance (which Cassandra tries to force Tom to continue) and say goodbye. It does feel a bit like Tom is two different people. He’s socially confused Tom, but then he’s also generic romantic interest guy, who’s an experienced lover and great kisser. So that’s a little odd. But I’m going to go listen to it now, because this book is well-paced, with amazing development, and is sooooooo funny. I’m intrigued at what my next Lisa Kleypas book will be like. This is an interesting exercise, if nothing else.
So, go off off into the world, my heroes, and if nothing else, don’t put raspberries or vanilla ice cream or any other food where the sun don’t shine.
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