Jan 21 2008
Dear Ms Glass:
One of my main disappointments with contemporary Romance is that the heroine often seems emotionally isolated. If she has a career, it gets shorted for the sake of the romance. If she has friends, they are there more in spirit than actual character presence. If she has family, they may make an obligatory appearance during the wedding or present a meddling presence during the courtship phase of the romance relationship. So I was surprised and excited when I started reading your debut novel, No Commitment Required, because right from the beginning of the book I was thrown into the heroine’s complex world of career, friends, business associates, and family, both blood and surrogate. Although it reads in some parts like a first book, overall I found No Commitment Required to be an emotionally satisfying and well-developed romance between two multi-layered characters dealing with complex life issues.
Yvonne Mitchelson is on the verge of large-scale success with Your Heart’s Desire, a growing chain of Atlanta boutiques specializing in her own line lingerie and other romance-related items. When she hires Michael Benjamin’s marketing firm to take her business to the next level, neither of these independent, no-commitment types expect the strength of their mutual attraction. Both are successful and intelligent, both attractive and emotionally unattached, both focused more on their own success than on the prospect of marriage and family, and their professional partnership gives them both the opportunity to get to know each other as colleagues and creative entrepreneurs, providing a solid context in which their physical attraction can be nurtured, as well.
The thing about both Yvonne and Michael, however, is that they each harbor strong fears of emotional vulnerability, and both have been emotionally injured in ways that makes it very difficult for them to move past a superficial attachment to romantic engagements. Unlike some Romance novels in which the hero or heroine’s emotional hurt turns out to be a surface wound at best, Michael and Yvonne really are pretty emotionally damaged, especially Yvonne, who seems the healthier of the two initially but is ultimately revealed to be the one in need of a much more thorough emotional exorcism than Michael. When we first meet Michael, in fact, it is to see him disappointing yet another woman:
“I’m not the marrying type,” he said quietly. “I told you that when we started seeing each other. I wish you had believed me.”
His furious ex-lover laughed hollowly. “What woman in her right mind believes a line like that? That was a challenge, not a confession. What you should have told me is what a cold-hearted son of a bitch you are.”
True, but that wasn’t something that could be brought up in casual conversation. Or bed.
Despite this witty exchange, initially I thought I was in for yet another story about the rakish, commitment-phobic executive whose mommy done him wrong, finally converted to puppyish, loving husband by the understanding and emotionally generous heroine. Yawn. But as Michael and Yvonne begin their relationship, and as their old emotional wounds become apparent to one another and to the reader, we learn that Michael really has been done wrong by a woman (not his mother) and that somehow, in meeting a woman who is truly more emotionally shut down than he is, he is given the opportunity to grow up and give of himself emotionally to a woman who baffles him but also energizes and challenges him in a way he hasn’t ever experienced. The story of Michael’s maturation and Yvonne’s slow thawing really was a pleasure to experience, because these two characters were real adults dealing with real grown-up relationship issues.
I won’t go into detail regarding the traumatic histories of both Michael and Yvonne, because learning about those issues is part of the satisfaction in reading No Commitment Required, but I will say that in Yvonne’s case I was impressed with how emotionally realistic her commitment issues were, especially once we discover the whole of her story. And for a while, we, like Michael, must take a lot on faith, especially because Yvonne is far more stubborn in her emotional reticence than Michael, which is a wonderful little twist on standard Romance expectations. When Michael’s mother asks Yvonne about her feelings for Michael, she answers honestly and with fitting complexity:
“My ability to love was all but killed with my family. But since I’ve met Michael, since I’ve been with him, there’s this sensation in my chest, something that’s just as fragile as it is strong. It rules my every waking moment, yet I’m so afraid that it isn’t enough. I don’t love your son as much as I will, and probably not nearly as much as he deserves. But I care for him very deeply, to the best of my ability, and I hope that every day of the rest of my life brings a new way to show him how much I do.”
The obstacles to this couple’s happiness are both external and internal. The fact that Michael and white and Yvonne is black creates some backlash, although it is more an external tension than one within the relationship. Although Michael warns Yvonne early on not to “Put me on a pedestal. . . . I’ll only fall off,” he is genuinely surprised to find himself wanting more from Yvonne than she seems to want from him, and it forces him to face his own selfishness and to see someone else’s pain as more important than his. It was, in fact, so refreshing to read a Romance hero who has to be the one to take the emotional risk with the heroine that I pretty much forgave his “too good to be true” moments and the speed with which he seemed to devote himself to getting Yvonne to surrender herself completely to her emotional attachment to him.
As for Yvonne, she never felt self-pitying to me, and I loved that she continued to work and focus on her business for most of the book, despite the obvious emotional turmoil she was experiencing (at one point she is appropriately unfocused on her work, though, proving that she is not a super-heroine). In fact, there were numerous scenes that took place within and around the work environment and relationship between Michael and Yvonne, and Yvonne’s business was represented as much more than a prop to show how unbalanced her professional and personal lives had become. Further, the secondary characters, for the most part, had real roles to play, although I must admit that they did seem a bit too good to be true in some cases.
The weaknesses of the book registered mostly in pacing and in a shift between eloquent prose and clichéd expressions, and while they were not by any means fatal, it was really the first and last sections of the book that buoyed my ultimate enthusiasm. Although I must say that the final crisis, so to speak, was catalyzed by a scenario involving Michael and Yvonne’s mutual friend came across as emotionally unpersuasive to me and indicative of the shift between solid storytelling and borderline melodrama. It was an inconsistency that was largely overcome by the complex characterizations of Michael and Yvonne, however, and the small but significant ways that certain Romance clichés were turned on their heads. So on the strength of the characterizations and the wonderful surprises in No Commitment Required, I ended up finding this a B read and now look forward to another Seressia Glass novel.
This book can be purchased in mass market. No ebook format.