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REVIEW: Deeper by Megan Hart

Dear Ms. Hart,

Bess Walsh needs time away from her unhappy marriage. She finds it at the beach house she inherited from her parents. There, in the water, Bess fantasizes about Nick, the boy she loved and lost twenty years before. She touches herself and soon she feels Nick touching her. The lovemaking is intense, unforgettable.

But the next morning Bess is shocked to see that her fantasy lover hasn’t evaporated with the night. Nick is still there, and though physically he hasn’t aged a day since they parted company twenty years earlier, he feels solid and corporeal, and has an emotional maturity he did not have back in those days.

Bess has missed Nick so badly that she does not want to question his reappearance or interrogate his twenty year old disappearance. She knows it must involve something that she won’t like hearing. Instead, she drowns the questions in touch, in passionate sex that makes the rest of the world fade away.

Bess and Nick’s past is revealed in chapters that alternate with the present day storyline. Back then, Bess was a twenty year old college student who came to Bethany Beach to earn money during the summer. The beach house belonged to her grandparents, but to less well-to-do kids like her friend Missy, it made Bess seem like a snob.

At a party at Missy’s house, Bess was attracted to a boy named Nick, whom Missy told her was gay. Like Missy, Nick didn’t have much money, nor did he have much of a family. He was a boy from the wrong side of the tracks. Although back home she had a boyfriend of four years, Andy, Bess had a strong suspicion that Andy was cheating on her. She described Andy to Nick as her “sort of” boyfriend.

When Nick learned that Missy lied to Bess about his sexual orientation, he proposed that Nick and Bess pretend there was something between them to get back at Missy. Bess agreed, but the game became more than that to her. Even after being warned about Nick’s bad reputation, she couldn’t help being drawn to him.

Now, twenty years later, the attraction is just as potent. Bess only leaves the house to get groceries, and spends most of her time in bed with Nick. When, on one shopping trip, Bess stops at Sugarland, the caramel corn shop where she worked back in the old days, she’s surprised to find that Eddie, who was an awkward, geeky boy with a crush on her back then, now owns the business. Bess tells Eddie that her teenage sons will be coming to stay with her soon, and he suggests that they can work at Sugarland. But these intrusions of the real world are forgotten when Bess returns home to Nick’s arms.

Is Bess losing her mind, and is Nick a manifestation of her imagination? Or is Nick real, at least as real as a spirit can be? Why is the past haunting Bess, and is it possible for her to let go of it? What will happen to Bess’s marriage? What will happen to her relationship with Nick when her teenage sons arrive? And what was it that happened twenty years ago?

These questions are answered slowly over the course of this unusual book, so I will not spoil such discoveries for readers.

I enjoyed Deeper and its two sympathetic protagonists. Both Bess and Nick make mistakes, but both of them are vulnerable, each caring more than they have the courage to show the other for a long time. Knowing there was not going to be a happily ever after for this couple made the book bittersweet and poignant.

Deeper is not a perfect book — the past storyline took a long time to grab a hold of me and to become as interesting as the present day story, since the more mature Nick and Bess had suffered more and therefore had more at stake in their relationship. Also, there was a lot of sex in the present day storyline, and sometimes it felt like too much of a good thing because their emotional relationship interested me more than their physical one.

On another, less significant note, I realize that this may seem like an idiosyncratic nitpick, but I was frequently distracted by Bess’s name. I’m of Bess’s generation and I have never known anyone my age who goes by the name Bess. Beth, Liz, even Betsy, yes. But Bess? No. It sounds grandmotherly to me, and the fact that in the past storyline, none of the other kids her age ever commented on her name seemed odd, when I kept wanting to substitute “Beth” in my mind.

But I was won over by the book’s freshness and by the compassion I felt for both Bess and Nick. Their longing for one another was so intense that they wanted to ignore the reality of their situation rather than face what they had lost. While I didn’t understand all the choices Bess had made during the time she and Nick were apart, I wanted her to find happiness somehow. And Nick was even more vulnerable and appealing. How I wished I could turn back the clock for him.

As I was reading, I could almost imagine Deeper as a movie. I could almost see the beach house, the water, and Sugarland. The vivid detail is one of your great strengths as a writer. The way the characters in your books feel real to me, even in a surreal situation like this one, is another.

I kept wishing for an ending in which an older, living Nick reunited with Bess. I knew that such an ending would have been a copout for this book, and that I could expect something more realistic than that from you. When the ending came, it was the right, appropriate ending, and though it was bittersweet, it also satisfied me. B-/B for Deeper.

Sincerely,

Janine

This book can be purchased at Amazon or in ebook format from Sony or other etailers.

Janine Ballard loves well-paced, character-driven books. Examples include novels by Shana Abe, Loretta Chase, Patricia Gaffney, Cecilia Grant, Judith Ivory, Carolyn Jewel, Laura Kinsale, Julie Anne Long, Alison Richardson, Nalini Singh and Pam Rosenthal. Janine also writes fiction. Her critique partners are Sherry Thomas, Meredith Duran and Bettie Sharpe. Her erotic short story, "Kiss of Life", appears in the Berkley anthology AGONY/ECSTASY under the pen name Lily Daniels. You can email Janine at janineballard at gmail dot com. or find her on Twitter @janine_ballard.

19 Comments

  1. Karen Scott
    Jul 01, 2009 @ 16:25:34

    This sounds right up my alley. I’ve loved most of MH’s books so far.

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  2. Diana Peterfreund
    Jul 01, 2009 @ 16:29:33

    There was a Bessie in my high school, though I’m ten years younger than this “Bess.” the name probably wouldn’t bother me.

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  3. Keishon
    Jul 01, 2009 @ 16:54:39

    I just bought this after reading Jessica’s of RRR tweet of it earlier today. Just glanced at the grade. Will read your review after I’ve read it.

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  4. Jennie
    Jul 01, 2009 @ 17:21:16

    Hmm, I’m not sure about this one. I’ve been getting progressively less enchanted with this author over the past couple of books, and though the flashback aspect interests me, the ghost aspect does not. I may still pick it up, but I think I’ll wait awhile.

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  5. Bonnie
    Jul 01, 2009 @ 17:23:53

    Just sent this one to my Kindle. Looking forward to it.

    Thanks for the review.

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  6. Janine
    Jul 01, 2009 @ 19:06:34

    Karen, Keishon and Bonnie — I hope you enjoy it!

    Diana — Well, I may be unusual in this, or maybe the name is making a comeback. I’ve known many Elizabeths but no Bess. In fact I don’t recall even ever meeting a Bess of any age, or coming across one on the internet. I’ve only seen the name in older fictional works like Porgy and Bess. So it was an ongoing distraction to me.

    @Jennie:

    Hmm, I'm not sure about this one. I've been getting progressively less enchanted with this author over the past couple of books, and though the flashback aspect interests me, the ghost aspect does not. I may still pick it up, but I think I'll wait awhile.

    FWIW, I liked this one better than Stranger, which I couldn’t finish, and even a little bit better than Tempted. The characters were more sympathetic to me in Deeper than in those two books. Having said that, I wasn’t always riveted, and the book was somewhat melancholy. Dirty and Broken are still the gold standard for me where Hart’s books are concerned.

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  7. Heather (errantdreams)
    Jul 01, 2009 @ 23:57:00

    This sounds lovely and poignant! Too much already on my plate or I’d have to get my hands on it. =/

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  8. Sayoko
    Jul 02, 2009 @ 01:52:09

    Tempted and Dirty are both keepers for me. I skipped Stranger and Broken because I didn’t like the plot (based on the reviews I read), but I think I’ll read them someday.

    Ever since I heard of Deeper I knew I would buy it, and love it. And so I did. Even though it’s not a romance, and I found it painful to know that there couldn’t be a happy ending.

    I really think that there was way too much sex in the present storyline. And it’s for this reason that I much preferred the parts set in the past.
    I don’t know, maybe this book would have been better if it hadn’t been in the Spice imprint. Or maybe the fact that basically all they did in the present storyline was having sex was a necessary element for the later developments. As if to show once more that there couldn’t be a happy ending for them.

    It was certainly a poignant, haunting read. Megan’s writing and characters are always vivid and realistic, her author’s voice distinctive.

    By the way, I have no way of knowing what names are/were common in American high schools, but I thought that Bess was a “granny name”, too.

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  9. Janine
    Jul 02, 2009 @ 10:25:21

    Heather, it is poignant and well-written.

    @Sayoko:

    Broken is terrific IMO — I hope you read it. Glad you enjoyed this book!

    I really think that there was way too much sex in the present storyline. And it's for this reason that I much preferred the parts set in the past.

    I actually preferred the present for a good portion of the book because it was more loaded with emotion, but the amount of sex in the present storyline was more than I wanted also. I felt somewhat that way about Dirty, too — the sex there got a bit repetitive for me. It’s the story that I find compelling in her books, so I sometimes want to get back to that.

    It was certainly a poignant, haunting read. Megan's writing and characters are always vivid and realistic, her author's voice distinctive.

    I agree with that.

    I thought that Bess was a “granny name”, too.

    I’m relieved not to be the only one who felt that way.

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  10. Susan/DC
    Jul 02, 2009 @ 13:48:40

    The comments about too many sex scenes are interesting. Many authors throw in sex scenes because they can’t do character, plot, or setting very well, but Hart is the opposite. As someone else noted, actual descriptions of Tab A in Slot B become repetitive after a while, and I’m ready to move on. OTOH, I’m happy to spend more time with Hart’s unique voice and vivid characters and would like more focus on these aspects of her books. She’s VG at the erotic content and using it to develop character, so I don’t want her to skip those scenes entirely, but this is definitely a case where less may be more.

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  11. Janine
    Jul 03, 2009 @ 12:53:49

    Susan, I tend to agree. Although Broken is a big exception for me. Because most of the sex scenes were Joe’s encounters with different women, each one was very different from the other and I didn’t get impatient at all.

    Do you plan to read Deeper?

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  12. Jessica
    Jul 06, 2009 @ 17:09:06

    I just finished Deeper, and I think your review is right on, Janine, as usual. I give the author so much credit for doing new and interesting things. I really like her writing style, the themes she explores, the mature way she writes about sex (without losing its sex appeal, if that makes sense). Hart is an autobuy for me.

    However, maybe it’s because I am in such a romance purist mode right now, but like Jennie, I haven’t loved the last three books as much as I did Dirty and Broken. I’ve been a bit less sympathetic to the heroines, a bit impatient with their seemingly insatiable sexual appetites, and less convinced of the HEA, although that last was less of an issue in Deeper (I was glad Hart bit the bullet there and did the hard thing).

    In some ways, all of her books are downers, but I think she hits on something interesting, a kind of modern feminine strain of apathy as a coping mechanism for the impossible demands of contemporary life. She’s like the anti-Crusie. I appreciate the depth of the issues she explores within the confines of the Spice imprint and “erotic novel” tag.

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  13. Janine
    Jul 06, 2009 @ 18:12:42

    Jessica, thanks so much for letting me know you enjoyed the review. Will you be reviewing Deeper for Racy Romance Reviews? If so I will be interested in reading your thoughts.

    I so agree with you about Hart. I love the way she takes chances, and I also enjoy the immediacy and maturity of her writing. I can’t speak for anyone but myself but in my case, I don’t think it’s romance purism that has made me enjoy the last three books less than Dirty and Broken. Or at least it’s not that alone. I do think the heroines have been a bit less sympathetic in the last three books — for me, most notably in Stranger. It’s actually a very unusual thing for me to complain about since I often prefer flawed characters.

    In addition, I think that for me, Dirty and Broken were stronger in terms of the pacing. I didn’t feel much lag or impatience when I read them. In any case, I think Hart set a high bar for herself with those two books.

    In some ways, all of her books are downers, but I think she hits on something interesting, a kind of modern feminine strain of apathy as a coping mechanism for the impossible demands of contemporary life.

    That’s a fascinating comment and especially relevant to Deeper. It was partly her feelings for Nick that kept Bess from taking a hard look at their situation but I think it was also the difficulties of her personal life situation. In Bess’s case, I saw her as using sex with Nick as a kind of drug — it felt to me like she was trying to numb herself and to escape her reality.

    It does seem like a portrayal of a contemporary malaise that many of us have experienced, though sex isn’t necessarily always the vehicle though which it expresses itself. I was speaking with someone recently who said she was constantly watching the Michael Jackson saga on the news channels because it provided a kind of escape from the difficulties and demands of her life. To judge from the prominence of this story in the news, she is not alone.

    Back to the author, I feel that Hart captured real people and real life so well. The first time I read her, it was almost a revelation. I hadn’t realized that contemporary genre fiction could feel that real. I do appreciate that very much.

    I appreciate the depth of the issues she explores within the confines of the Spice imprint and “erotic novel” tag.

    Me too.

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  14. Jessica
    Jul 07, 2009 @ 12:24:41

    I think that for me, Dirty and Broken were stronger in terms of the pacing.

    Now that you say it, I agree. This is the kid of thing I may feel intuitively, but don’t have the language to express. So thank you!

    I do think the heroines have been a bit less sympathetic in the last three books -’ for me, most notably in Stranger.

    Yes. In each case, especially Tempted and stranger, I found myself asking, “what the hell is your problem?”. That’s how I hit on my thought that you quoted … that it’s almost more of a comment on contemporary life than a specific problem, such as Elle or Sadie had.

    In Bess's case, I saw her as using sex with Nick as a kind of drug -’ it felt to me like she was trying to numb herself and to escape her reality.

    I think this is true for at least one of the main pair in every one of hers books, actually.

    I do hope to write up reviews of Stranger and Deeper one day, but you know how that goes! ;)

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  15. Janine
    Jul 07, 2009 @ 12:38:43

    Now that you say it, I agree. This is the kid of thing I may feel intuitively, but don't have the language to express. So thank you!

    You’re welcome.

    Yes. In each case, especially Tempted and stranger, I found myself asking, “what the hell is your problem?”. That's how I hit on my thought that you quoted … that it's almost more of a comment on contemporary life than a specific problem, such as Elle or Sadie had.

    Yeah. That is a very interesting thought. I’m torn between admiring Hart for undertaking to explore that kind of disconnectedness and admitting that I prefer heroines like Elle and Sadie who had more concrete reasons for making the choices they made.

    In Bess's case, I saw her as using sex with Nick as a kind of drug -’ it felt to me like she was trying to numb herself and to escape her reality.

    I think this is true for at least one of the main pair in every one of hers books, actually.

    Good point! I didn’t think about it, but it’s true.

    I do hope to write up reviews of Stranger and Deeper one day, but you know how that goes! ;)

    Yes, I do. I’m sure I will enjoy your reviews whenever you get to them.

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  16. Kasha
    Jul 30, 2009 @ 10:10:41

    I have skimmed through this, but not read it properly yet (yes, I am guilty of knowing the ending before reading it!!). I had many distractions, but was also excited about the book and so wanted to see what it was all about.

    I would say that the sex was a bit too much, but the poignancy of the story – the little I’ve seen so far – gets me.

    I don’t understand the fuss with the name. Where I live people have all kinds of names. Bess isn’t my favourite name in the world, but I think it’s kind of nice. I’m no real fan of old Anglo-Saxon (British) kind of names, but they are well and truly in fashion these days. I knew plenty of people with unusual names growing up, and I don’t recall anybody ever commenting on them.

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  17. Janine
    Jul 30, 2009 @ 11:56:17

    @Kasha:

    Glad you are excited about the book. I agree that the story is quite poignant.

    With regard to the name thing, I understand how you feel. We all have different life experiences that we bring to our readings of books. I can’t really offer more than what I said already — that I realize it may seem like an idiosyncratic nitpick, but it was distracting to me personally, and in the end, all I can do as a reviewer is relate my personal reading experience to the readers of my reviews.

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  18. Roselyn
    Aug 04, 2009 @ 01:20:14

    Finished reading Deeper. I am a huge fan of Megan Hart to the point now that she is my favourite writer. I read Broken which grabbed my attention in more ways than one. Tempted was also excellent, different to Broken which is what I love about MH. Taking Care of Business was next on my list, it was short but enjoyed the story.

    Deeper took MH to a different level. I could imagine the beach house, sugarland, the bike ride from work to the beach house, Nicks place etc. I wasn’t sure if I would like this book because of Nick’s ‘now’ situation but it helped tell the story at the end. I can’t agree with people’s comments about too much sex scenes, it’s the sex scenes that make MH characters become so passionate and hot. The more the merrier I say! And she writes them so well.

    I wished Nick and Bess opened up more and told each other how they felt before but I guess that was the struggle between them. I hated Bess for reverting to Andy as ‘he still loves me’ to Nick and staying with him after she knew all along he was cheating on her but I guess that’s her personality. I found that she can easily be swayed with Andy, Nick and Eddie. It frustrated me but to point this out makes me realise how well MH can write. I’m always so anxious to read the next book and soo upset when I finish them. They linger in my mind a lot longer after I read the book.

    Next on my list is Dirty. What am I going to read after I finish MH books??? I guess I’ll just have to read them all again!

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  19. Shameless Reading Romance Blog » Deeper by Megan Hart
    Sep 17, 2009 @ 15:04:08

    [...] Dear Author 7/01/09 . B- . “…I was won over by the book's freshness and by the compassion I felt for both Bess and Nick. [...]

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