REVIEW: He’s Come Undone by Theresa Weir
“Penniless and behind on rent, college student and once famous child actress Ellie Barlow takes on the role of a lifetime when she’s hired by a group of young women to break the heart of the campus player who cruelly dumped them.
Transformed from slob slacker to jaw-dropping beauty, Ellie is dressed, styled, bleached and waxed, her chunky glasses exchanged for violet contacts. Along with physical prepping, she’s coached on Julian’s obsessions, which include long-distance running, Doctor Who, and J.D. Salinger.
In no time, Julian is in pursuit of his custom-made next victim, but when Ellie goes off script and begins to fall for her target the newest broken heart in this risky game could be her own.”
Dear Ms. Weir,
Can you get me to want to read a book with a hero who sounds like an ass? Yes, you can. Do I want to read about a heroine whose physical transformation only needs contacts instead of glasses to suddenly look dazzling? Again, yes I do. Revenge plot? I hate revenge plots but I’m reading this one. Am I still hoping that we’ll get the third cat novella with Sam and Max’s sister? Please! Oh, please!
Ahem. Now back to our review already in progress.
So here I am diving into a novella that ought to have me running in the opposite direction and I’m diving in, voluntarily, head first, into waters of uncertain depth. Let’s examine why the issues that should have canned this one actually didn’t. Revenge plots are common in Romancelandia but instead of the usual hero who will wreck havoc on the heroine, here it’s women aiming to bring down the man they think treated them like shit. I know that to some it might seem like a stereotypical cat fight of women angry at a man but I choose to look at it as women who aren’t going to passively take being dismissed. The way in which they orchestrate the whole affair also seems very modern – using Craig’s List, a notarized contract, and detailed notes for Ellie, the actress, to study. However, I’ll be honest and say the plot is one that just has to be accepted until the action gets going.
Ellie’s transformation from a 6 on a good day to a 10++ smacks of the hated “we’re supposed to believe that all it takes is removing her glasses, letting her hair down from a tight bun and putting her in sexy clothes to turn her into a knockout?” trope. But Ellie is also a real actress, used to the camera, used to being transformed by makeup. And a properly fitted bra can do wonders to change a woman. Ellie’s also smart and realizes that her “change” is only surface deep – inside she’s the same person with her good and bad points and her own scared past.
Julian is first presented to us by others and we see him as a beautiful, fuckwad user who has deeply angered several women. Then his redemption in the eyes of the reader starts. Very quickly it’s obvious that there is some dark secret in his past, dark enough to cause him to be seeing a psychiatrist, dark enough to be on anti-depression medication, dark enough to have been involuntarily committed to a mental health facility. Julian’s got issues but to me they are believable ones.
So we’ve got two broken people who need to be salvaged in my eyes. Two? Well Ellie isn’t lily white pure here either as she’s taking money to try and get someone to fall in love with her solely in order to then break his heart. The reasons given for Julian and Ellie’s actions are ones I can accept. Ellie’s might not be noble but it’s understandable. Poverty can get you to do things you might otherwise never stoop to. Julian has – and is still – going through his own private hell. One that his psychiatrist believes has arrested his emotional development to the age when the event happened. He feels the sexual contact he has with the women makes him feel alive instead of internally dead and he truly believes his casual attitude towards relationships is normal. Watching both of them grow, understand the wrongness of what they’re doing and change is part of the emotional satisfaction of the book.
I thought the novella was also well crafted. The characterization is consistent and I enjoyed the first person POV chance to actually get inside each person’s head. Ellie, Julian and the scorned women might not understand the motivations, changes and evolution of each other, but we do. Readers who want more of the hero’s feelings will appreciate how much time is spent seeing things from Julian’s perspective.
But wait, there are also other things I like about it. Things are shown vs being told such as when Julian first began to notice and become interested in Ellie. The changes in the characters seemed to flow naturally and build slowly instead of conveniently appearing. The trauma in Julian’s past is delicately revealed but the revelation is all the more powerful for its lack of details which leave a reader free to fill in the blanks, or not. The issue of Julian’s mental health, both in what he’s already suffered and the new consequences from what happens in the novella, feel realistic and hurrah for the fact that twue lurve isn’t shown as fixing it all.
Can readers overcome the fact that Julian did, even in his own eyes, treat these young women badly? Will people believe that Ellie’s reasons for what she agreed to do, and signed a contract for, are good enough? I did, in both cases, because of the fact that I believed in their changes by the end of the novella. Despite a few nitpicks – what else Ellie could have done first to make money and the interchangeable feel of the disgruntled women – it was a fast and enjoyable read for me. B
Oh, man- I am not a big fan of the novella format or NA/YA but Theresa Weir is fabulous.
@LeeF: My thoughts too.
I just read Geek with the Cat Tatoo this week (courtesy of the interest from DABWAHA) and I really enjoyed it – it was so unique!
I thought about picking this up when it was a daily deal but I just couldn’t get past the “Dr. Who, Salinger, long-distance running” thing. Never mind how he treats women; THAT sounds like a nightmare.
I picked this up when it was a daily deal because I *like* revenge plots (am I the only one?). However I found it hard to get past the opening “job interview” scene. The premise that these girls would hire an actress to teach a jerk who used them a lesson seems far fetched. The heroine’s backstory didn’t ring true to me either. She was a famous child star but it’s a secret she had to reveal to the students with the job offer to get the job? Wouldn’t they have been able to recognize her even without being told?
Since you say it gets better I’ll try to keep reading. I hope I like it! I’ve read a couple of Weir’s books in the past, Amazon Lily and Cool Shade, and neither one wowed me though they weren’t bad. A lot of readers love her books so I’m still hoping to find one I love too.
@Jennie: Really? I liked classic Tom Baker era Dr. Who. And though I couldn’t get into The Catcher in the Rye, I enjoyed Salinger’s Nine Stories. Long distance running is completely outside my purview but I have nothing against it. It sounds like a nice touch to me.
@Janine: The premise that gave you trouble is what I alluded to when I said the plot just has to be accepted to get the action going.
Dr. Who wouldn’t be a deal breaker for me but running … I get shin splints if I run more than a city block. ;)
@Jennie: LOL, very little time is spent on discussing either Dr. Who or Salinger. But there is lots and lots of running as it’s cathartic for Julian.
Well, it turns out that I *did* pick it up, so I guess I’ll be reading it. I was kind of kidding about the hero’s enthusiasms – I have nothing against Dr. Who (more or less) except that as a non-watcher, it’s one of those things I don’t want to be caught in a conversation about, because people who like it REALLY LIKE IT. See also Star Trek, Star Wars, LOTR, and probably a bunch of comic book series.
I have only read The Catcher in the Rye, and I didn’t care for it – though I read it as a teenager, I still found Holden Caulfield a whiny, self-absorbed brat. I distrust the sort of young man over, say, 13 who thinks TCiTR is profound. (Though I’d be much more concerned if he were an Ayn Rand fan.)
I don’t really have anything against long-distance running. I guess the little list of likes just put me in mind of a navel-gazing, faux-tortured college student. I’m probably being too hard on the character. :-)