Dear Ms. Hewitt:
My first thought when I started this book is “another Balfour sisters’ story.” I feel like I’ve read a dozen of them so far. Surely Mr. Balfour couldn’t have fathered all these women, right? Right. Zoe, who thought she was a Balfour all her life, turns out to be illegitimate, but raised by Oscar Balfour as his own.
Zoe’s illegitimacy is the talk of the London social circuit and not in a good way. Oscar informs Zoe that the answers she wants are in New York and gently suggests she go across the ocean to meet her biological father. (As an aside, are the terms “bio dad/bio mom” solely used by adoptees. I was always surprised when Zoe referred to her sperm donor as “father” in her thoughts without qualification). Zoe heads to New York but avoids the real purpose of her visit. Instead, Zoe wastes her days shopping and her nights partying. Zoe is fairly purposeless and the one thing that grounded her was being a Balfour. This stantion being ripped away has shaken her and in her moments of introspection, Zoe sees nothing of worth. This insecurity is compounded by the falsity surrounding her birth and parentage.
Similarly, but for other reasons, Max Monroe is suffering the same identity crisis and lack of self confidence. A self made multi millionaire, Max is informed that a genetic condition will result in Max becoming blind in less than six months. His blindness and a concomitant terror associated with blindness is causing Max to withdraw into himself and question his self worth.
I really loved the duality of these conflicts and the exploration of the psyche below the shiny surfaces. To observers, Zoe and Max must be happy because they are wealthy and goodlooking. Yet the gloss is only a veneer and a thin one at that. The two engage in a one night stand that leaves them both less happy than before their connection and Zoe pregnant.
I thought this “what you see is not what you get” concept was cleverly carried out in the perceptions Zoe and Max had of each other. Max sees a wealthy, flighty society girl who would never be able to accept a man as imperfect as he while Zoe sees Max’s stony silences and reluctance to move outside his comfort zone as indifference and arrogance when it is really his fear of humiliation due to his increasing blindness.
Zoe’s pregnancy is the making of her. She accepts responsibility for the child and begins to seek out more responsibility in her life including facing her biological father and volunteering at a local woman’s clinic. The pregnancy makes Max shrink farther within himself. He sees himself as nothing but a liability. While I understood Max’s point of view, I was surprised that Zoe was so resilient emotionally in the face of his cruelty regarding her pregnancy. While I appreciated her internal fortitude, it didn’t really match with her previous behavior and I hadn’t been convinced that by this point in the book, Zoe had undergone that much change.
I really did like Max and Zoe though. Max’s torment was well articulated and it did help to offset his unlikeable behavior. He was an asshole but with a reason and not just because he was burned by a woman once and thus hated all womankind.
What was ultimately problematic about this book was the length. There was so much drama and agnst that the short space of the category made the character arc too sharp. Both Max and Zoe go from wounded to rejoicing in too short of a time frame. Zoe’s on screen development consisted of facing up her biological father and volunteering rather than partying. Max’s was more of an internal struggle but he had so much to overcome that it seemed unrealistic for him to have come to grips with his loss and his past. In fact, I thought that there was an additional agnst that was added based on Max’s past that was unnecessary.
I closed the story and wondered what this would have read like in a 90,000 word novel rather than a 60,000+ word novel. For HP lovers, I think that this would be a very good read but for non HP lovers, the sharp character arcs might not be satisfying. B-