REVIEW: The Company You Keep by Tracy Kelleher
Dear Ms. Kelleher
June 23 was the 40th Anniversary of Title IX, a controversial statute that required colleges to offer women equal access to collegial athletics. The initial goal was to provide an increased opportunity for women to attend college through the form of athletic scholarships. Over time, the statute has been criticized because in some cases men’s programs were reduced or eliminated. The Company You Keep uses this controversy as the center of the conflict between the main protagonists.
I thought it fitting that Harlequin published this book during the month of June and, of course, being the sports lover that I am, I had to read it and review it for Dear Author. I wished I could say that this book did justice to the Title IX Act with a nuanced exploration of the gender equality situation. I even thought the set up was designed to do just that. The hero, Vic Golinksi, received a football scholarship to some fake Ivy League school called Grantham. Thus it is the male who is need of an academic opportunity.
His TItle IX counterpart is rich girl Mimi Lodge who was the captain of the girl’s water polo team. In their senior year, the two sat on a panel with each other debating the appropriateness of Title IX. Vic was against it because it was leading to the elimination of the men’s wrestling team. Mimi was, of course, for it. But the battle of the sexes, even in the prologue, is really just a backdrop. Vic is foreshadowed to be a washed-up pro football player who builds a successful business and Mimi, a famous international reporter on human rights.
Fast forward from the prologue and Mimi is suffering PTSD from a kidnapping in Chechnya and Vic is dealing with being the CEO of GSI. Mimi’s father convinces the both of them to return to Grantham for a Reunion, an important day in Grantham’s calendar year, to sit on another panel together and debate the issue of gender equality in collegiate sports.
Much of the story centers around Grantham and was deathly boring. There were so many proper nouns in the book I felt like I had fallen through the HSR cover into a JR Ward Black Dagger Brotherhood story. I was brought back to earth with references such as “Board of Sisters to Sisters” and to famous fathers who intended to go to Slovakia and make a side trip to a special library in Bratislava and then travel to a home in Calabria (that’s in Italy, I had to look it up). To be fair, there were Gucci tasseled loafers on Vic’s brother, the LL Bean lunchbox swung by Mimi’s half sister, the Prada handbag slug over the shoulder of Mimi’s stepmother, the “brown- and-beige Coach tote bag with its signature ‘Cs’ carried by Vic’s mom. And Press rides a Trek bike. Who cares? What was the point? There were a ton of details included that added nothing to the story.
There was some weird slippage in the narrating voice, sometimes breaking the fourth wall.
Much as she didn’t go in for the touchy-feely stuff, seeing the psychologist recommended by Noreen had helped. Treatment for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder had greatly improved over the years. For Mimi, the sessions had helped her identify frightening memories and replace them with more manageable thoughts.
Press looked back at Amara. “Good for her. But you know, all this talk about food is making me hungry. I thought we were going to Burt’s Sweets for a strawberry blend-in.” The combination of French vanilla ice cream mixed up with fresh strawberries had been attracting local residents for two generations.
Unless it is specifically related to the characters or the progression of the story who cares what Burt’s Sweets serves up? Or that there is a species of black squirrel found only in Grantham? But Grantham is special. How special? Well, the Delaney Pool is state of the art:
Mimi hoisted herself out of the pool and walked swiftly to the women’s locker room down the hallway. Delaney Pool was a state-of-the-art racing facility—a welcome addition to the old dark and dingy gymnasium pool—and as an alum, she could still use the facilities for free.
and it connects to the Baldwin Gymnasium:
Baldwin Gymnasium, the university’s multi-purpose sports complex
Beyond the Grantham love fest, there was very little romance that actually took place. In part, because the narrative was all over the place. There are two secondary romances; one involving Mimi’s half brother Press and another involving Mimi’s stepmother and Mimi’s father. Vic’s parents are also struggling with their own relationship. There are visits to previous characters’ romances (I presume as I haven’t read any of these before but clearly seemed to be prequel bait). In amongst all of this, any reference to Title IX, Mimi’s PTSD, and Vic’s former professional football playing is totally lost. As is the romance.
There were details all over the place that didn’t fit so that the story lacked real cohesion. For instance, on page 22 (of my ARC), Vic is giving his brother Joe a lecture on what CEO does:
As I’ve said before, a CEO wears many hats and pitches in wherever needed, even on the floor dealing with first-time customers.
But not three pages later, Vic expresses this sentiment about Mimi’s father who doesn’t want to talk about a construction project:
Why wasn’t Vic surprised? When did a CEO get involved with building projects besides signing off on the design and then cutting the ribbon at the end?
This book read like someone really loved their Ivy League college, their Ivy League college town, and all the little shops and places from the Rare Book Library to the Delaney Pool from Burt’s Sweets to Bean World. For me, I couldn’t figure out why I should care about Grantham. I wanted to read a book about people, not a place. C-
Nonetheless, Title IX has given girls opportunities for 40 years. I’ll end with this video.