Avon Impulse, $4.99, ISBN 978-0-06-293190-0
Contemporary Romance, 2019
The heroine Regina Hobbs, sister of that nitwit in A Duke by Default, is a geek, ooh, who is also in a wheelchair after a brush with meningitis when she was younger. Gustave Nguyen is American-Vietnamese, and hence, of course he is a geek too (he’s very into puzzles, ooh), and a live streamer to boot. She has insomnia, and remembering just how much she loves the timbre of his voice when they communicated once upon a time, asks him for a recording of his voice to help her sleep. He decides to call her instead. Isn’t that sweet?
There is a refreshingly different kind of romance in here somewhere, but because of the risk associated with putting out a progressive story that may not sell, Can’t Escape Love naturally has to be a novella published through Avon’s digital imprint. Authors who want to be woke are welcome, but ssh, do it in the sidelines please, as this isn’t the young adult genre we’re talking about here. As a result of this, the romance is of the “Wait, that’s it? I… I… wait, what was that, seriously?” kind of not-so-wonderful. While I’m sure the main characters are okay and will be just fine, I close this one wondering whether the author really needed that money that badly to have delivered something as under-cooked as this.
Also, the nerd thing. Not once do I believe that Regina and Gustave are what they are said to be. Their behaviors and conversations lack the kind of enthusiastic yet awkward nerd-like passion one would expect to happen when two geeks meet and connect. Their behavior here are more suggestive of hipsters in gentrified blue state cities – the kinds who complain about the evils of capitalism by tweeting furiously on their Apple phones while waiting for the minimal wage worker at Starbucks to complete their tall soy latte order. Nothing wrong with that, just… not nerd.
I’m not shocked when I see names like Jezebel, Buzzfeed, and Vulture peppering the author’s bio at the inside back cover, because the portrayal of geeks here is exactly like that of the fake geeks the people behind those places like to pass themselves off as. Those people may dye their hair with pink streaks and wear a nose ring when they’re not calling themselves genderqueer or non-binary, but again, not nerds. They just claim they are because they are fans of mainstream fake-geek baits like Dr Who, Harry Potter, Supernatural, Sherlock Holmes, and Games of Thrones. #ReadAnotherBook #WatchAnotherDamnedShow
The geek thing aside, nothing feels well-done here. The story just sort of ends when it ends, because the author has reached the word count, and there isn’t any meaningful closure or even convincing promise about the future. It is one thing to want to write a progressive story, but if the result is going to be a faintly muted intestinal gas discharge like Can’t Escape Love, why even bother? Go big all the way or just don’t.