REVIEW: The Ex Talk by Rachel Lynn Solomon
Shay Goldstein has been a producer at her Seattle public radio station for nearly a decade, and she can’t imagine working anywhere else. But lately it’s been a constant clash between her and her newest colleague, Dominic Yun, who’s fresh off a journalism master’s program and convinced he knows everything about public radio.
When the struggling station needs a new concept, Shay proposes a show that her boss green-lights with excitement. On The Ex Talk, two exes will deliver relationship advice live, on air. Their boss decides Shay and Dominic are the perfect co-hosts, given how much they already despise each other. Neither loves the idea of lying to listeners, but it’s this or unemployment. Their audience gets invested fast, and it’s not long before The Ex Talk becomes a must-listen in Seattle and climbs podcast charts.
As the show gets bigger, so does their deception, especially when Shay and Dominic start to fall for each other. In an industry that values truth, getting caught could mean the end of more than just their careers.
Dear Ms. Soloman,
I wasn’t sure that this enemies-to-lovers trope book was going to work for me, and to be honest there are parts that didn’t, but overall I was surprised and pleased. There are all kinds of diversity and inclusion, a lot of humor, and a rescued dog with his own issues. There are also some romance issues and professional issues that I wasn’t thrilled with – at all.
First off, readers need to prepare themselves for a soft core circle jerk for NPR and Seattle. Shay does mention some of the stereotypes about each (hipsters, flannel, rain, and pledge drives) but the endless repeats of how public radio was her dream from pre-teen and how this form of radio allows for deep dives into news began to bore me after a while. But this is pretty much all she knows both in terms of a place to live and a job.
The reasons for Shay and Dominic to be in forced proximity resulting in heightened sexual awareness actually made sense. They needed to become familiar with each other as former lovers would be in order to make their listeners believe in their lies. Being in a blacked out restaurant which features aphrodisiac foods or being sent for a weekend together in order to make their on-air relationship feel less scripted, made sense here, and I found these a lot easier to accept than some silly things I’ve read in the past.
Thank goodness both were initially leery of lying about their “relationship” in order to float the premise of the show but the threat of being out of work worked wonders on convincing them to go along with that. Of course there was always commercial radio or music radio but see the NPR love fest discussion above.
I liked the villain less and less with his tendency to treat Shay more like a secretary and how he cut her off in front of Dominic during one meeting. So okay he’s the poster boy for misogyny. This aspect of the book was also well done in that it was misogyny of a million cuts and little things that added up rather than one big awful thing which made it seem more realistic to me. Still no one goes to his higher ups and complains about his arm twisting and threats of unemployment regarding agreeing to do the show.
The diversity inclusion was great and I loved that it didn’t just seem like boxes checked off. Shay celebrated Passover yet the only reason she didn’t eat a shellfish at a dinner scene was because she “doesn’t like them”? Hmmm. Okay maybe she doesn’t keep kosher but that detail stood out for me. I loved that Shay went to the shelter to adopt her dog and that she didn’t give up on Steve despite his lack of socialization and that she worked with a dog trainer to help him be all that he can be.
However there were things I had trouble with such as the fact that both Shay and Dominic lied through their teeth to their audience, their coworkers, and most of their friends and family. So … pretty much anyone who means anything to them. The public outing was brutal and at the end of the story, it seemed that the two of them had split from public radio plus had apologized out the wazoo but I can’t help but feel that earning back the trust of their listeners much less their families, was going to be a long slog. Especially for “I have a Masters degree in journalism” Dominic.
The romance was good but not great. At times Dominic, his sexy forearms notwithstanding, was a bit bland and when she needed him most, Dominic failed her, then failed her with his initial apology, and also with his subsequent actions. His public apology was heartfelt and inventive but when it counted – he fucking failed.
For a while, I was humming along with this book and feeling the charm. Then bit by bit, it settled into more ‘eh, not bad’ territory. I could have done with less of the paean to public radio but Shay did loosen up a bit about it by the end and perhaps she’ll take her best friend’s advice and continue to expand her horizons a little. B-/C+