(Reason for the quiet over here: I’m SO ludicrously swamped at work – we’re talking 15 hour days. Weekends too. I’m behind on blog email, but trying to keep up with comments when I can. This review is a result of my brain needing a break from work to save my sanity).
Usually when I hear about a book these days, I’ll wait for news in the ether, let my awareness build and then this percolates into a desire to read the book. Very rarely do I read one review and I HAVE to get the book right away, but this is what happened when I read the review for Unsticky at Angieville (the ‘Bibliocrack’ in the post’s title had my book lover sense’s tingling). I’m so, so glad I for my impulse buy.
The Premise: Grace Reeves is a twenty-something working for a pittance at the fashion magazine Skirt, and massively in debt. Her relationships with a string of grungy rock-band boys never seem to last, but it’s still a surprise when her latest boyfriend dumps her on her birthday – in the middle of her favorite high-end store. When Grace refuses to take the break-up quietly, she’s rescued by bystander Vaughn. This chance encounter becomes something more when Grace and Vaughn meet again and Vaughn proposes an arrangement. Grace has to follow specific rules and cater to Vaughn’s demands in return for thousands of pounds and exposure to the jet-set she’d never meet otherwise.
My Thoughts: Yep, this is sort of a Pretty Woman scenario, and I have to admit having qualms about how this would be portrayed. Thankfully, the story does not sugarcoat things – it’s pretty messed up, but on the other hand, so are Vaughn and Grace. At first Grace is horrified by the idea of being under contract to have a relationship with a man (which includes sex), in return for gifts and money, but she also has no idea how things work in Vaughn’s world and he makes it seem like the most reasonable thing. After some time to think about her ridiculously high debt and the rationalization that she wanted to have sex with Vaughn before he made his offer, she enters into a contract.
It’s a case of mutually using one another. Vaughn demands all Grace’s free time outside of work, and expects her to make him look good. This means weekends socializing in places like New York, Paris, or Beunos Aires, and weekdays preparing for these parties with spa treatments and shopping for new designer clothes, on top of her job at Skirt. Grace gets cash which she uses to try to pay off her credit cards, and a new luxurious lifestyle.
In a typical romantic comedy, this would be all conveyed in a fun, frivolous way, but in Unsticky, this is not the case. The narration feels grounded (and very British), and it has a gritty underside – there’s drinking, swearing and sex, and questionable actions from the characters. Vaughn is an obnoxious dictator, a hard man, and he’s eighteen years older than Grace is. Grace has to deal with his demands as well as those of her equally scary, bordering on abusive, boss at Skirt.
I have to admit that part of the pleasure of reading this book is the ‘Did they really just do that?’ factor and wondering if I was watching a train wreck about to happen or not. There were things that Grace does that I can’t see myself doing, but it fit her character to make the decisions she did. And I rooted for her. She’s passionate about fashion and I sympathized with her issues with money and the way she bought things to make herself feel better, only to make herself sick at the thought of more debt. She goes through a culture shock at Vaughn’s world but her determination rise to the occasion was very endearing. At the same time, Vaughn has his own demons. Clearly a man who insists on having his mistress sign a contract has issues, and he has them in spades. He’s aware of what a obnoxious bastard he is, and that’s part of why he wants to pay Grace.
“Despite their differences, because of their differences, they were a perfect mismatched set. Two sides of the same tarnished penny. An out-of-step Fred and Ginger. Vaughn was just as fucked up as she was – he was just so much better at hiding it.”
Vaughn’s childhood and Grace’s have left them both with scars. The story works because despite the scars they each bear, there’s something lovely between them. I loved how their broken pieces fit each other, but it’s not an easy relationship at all. These two may have excellent chemistry, but their understanding of each other and of themselves is sorely lacking. I think they both want to cross the divide, but the mercenary aspects of the relationship and their own hangups with love get in the way. They may be dropping their walls despite themselves, but there are also setbacks. Parts of this story put me on the verge of heartbreak, but somehow despair becomes hope. I loved that both these characters have dark sides to them, but I loved more that they found each other and were better for it.
Overall: I am blown away. This book may be classified as chick lit, but I think I’d call it dark chick lit. It has such deliciously complex characters that it stands apart from the frothy, light reads that people associate with this genre, but it is ultimately not a dark story. I felt like I’d fallen for Grace and Vaughn myself when I read this book, vicariously lived through their heartache and self-discovery, and came out the other side feeling like I had a good cathartic cry without having had one at all. I am seriously hooked.
I’m currently reading Manning’s other adult title You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me which I bought before I even finished Unsticky.