REVIEW: More Than One Night by Sarah Mayberry
Dear Ms. Mayberry,
It’s always a delight to read your books. Your characters are interesting, multifaceted, (reasonably) ordinary men and women; your plots are touching without being tawdry; your love stories convincing and sexy. More Than One Night isn’t my favorite of your books—I had trouble with the heroine—but was an enjoyable novel and one I’d recommend to any contemporary romance reader.
Charlie (Charlotte) Long, is at 32, out of the Australian army after fourteen years, and ready to begin the rest of her life. On her first night of “freedom,” she and her friend Gina open a bottle of champagne and Gina toasts Charlie, saying,
“To the rest of your life. To having a home that’s all yours. To meeting a guy who doesn’t know how to field strip a Steyr F88 rifle and who isn’t going to ship out when things start getting good. And to never, ever having to wear khaki again.”
Gina’s been out of the army for a couple of years, has a good job, a sweet little house—Charlie is staying in her spare room—and loves civilian life. Charlie too is happy to move on and yet she’s anxious.
“She’d die before she admitted it to anyone, but rather than being excited by all the choices and possibilities that lay ahead of her, she was feeling more than a little overwhelmed.”
She’s got a nice place to live, she’s building up a business as a web designer, she has a fabulous friend—we all need a Gina in our lives–, but she’s quietly terrified. She tells herself
Stop freaking out. You can do this. How hard can it be? You find an apartment. You buy some furniture. You start a life. It’s not rocket science.
It only felt like it.
Charlie, despite having been a very successful communications engineer with the Royal Australia Corps of Sigs, doesn’t have a lot of confidence. Oh she knows there are things she does well—she’s organized, intelligent, and ethical—but she sees herself as ordinary, plain old Charlie. And when I say plain, I mean unattractive, unsexy, and, in general, uninteresting to men. She’s never been in love, most of her sexual encounters have been awkward, her mirror is not her friend. Gina’s told her she’s crazy, that Charlie is lovely. But Charlie can’t believe it—really, Charlie won’t believe it. She’s sure she’s, to use a phrase from my grandmother, not much to look at.
On Charlie’s first night back, Gina gets the chance to prove Charlie wrong. Charlie and Gina have made plans to go to one of Sydney’s hottest restaurants but Charlie, whose luggage is missing, has none of her own clothes to wear. Gina talks Charlie into borrowing an outfit of Gina’s—a mesh halter and a pair of skin-tight stretch satin black pants. Charlie squeezes into the outfit, puts on some sexy makeup, and, once at the bar, is astonished to see guy after guy checking her out. She’s so stunned, in fact, she stumbles down a stair and spills a glass of red wine all over the white-shirted chest of an absolutely gorgeous guy. When she tries to apologize, he–Rhys Walker–tells her if she lets him buy her a drink, he’ll call it even. She can barely believe this beautiful man is flirting with her—which he very clearly is—and, after finishing her meal with Gina, Charlie decides to go for it. Usually Charlie listens to the voice in her head that tells her she’s just good, old, plain Charlie.
The voice was probably right. It had saved her from making a lot of bad decisions in her life, that voice. But she didn’t want to listen tonight. She wanted more of the feeling she’d experienced when she’d caught Rhys tracking her every move with his dark, heated gaze. For that precious handful of seconds she had felt powerful and knowing and invincible and incredibly sexy.
It might be an illusion—maybe even a delusion—but she wanted more of it. Even if it meant she was setting herself up to fail spectacularly.
Charlie finds Rhys, who has spent the evening praying the gorgeous woman who dumped wine on him will reappear, and, after a few more drinks, conversation, and the obliging exit of Gina, Rhys takes Charlie to his apartment where the two have a night of incredible sex. For Charlie, it’s unlike anything she’s ever experienced.
He started to move, and within seconds she’d found his rhythm. Every clumsy sexual encounter she’d ever had, every second of self-consciousness over her body or her own needs, every doubt she’d ever experienced went out the window as she gave herself over to the moment.
Rhys too is astonished by how sizzling they are together. The two make love three times—using a condom each time—and fall asleep in one another’s arms. The sun comes up, Charlie arises, sees how gorgeous Rhys is as he sleeps, checks out her own—to her—unlovely visage in his bathroom mirror and bolts, leaving him a short note and a hundred bucks to pay for his shirt.
This action on her part—and the attitude behind it–made me crazy. And, unfortunately, it fuels the story that unfolds after that splendiferous night. Eight weeks later, Charlie’s found her own place, her work is going well, and civilian life is working out for her. The only downside of her life is that she spends a little too much time wondering what would have happened if she hadn’t bailed on Rhys. At least that’s the only downside until she realizes—when Gina asks her why she doesn’t have a tampon Gina can borrow—she hasn’t had a period for almost three months. She buys a kit, pees on the stick, and is terrified to realize the condoms failed and she, careful, disciplined Charlie, is pregnant from a night of smokin’ sex with a total stranger. After giving an abortion some very real thought, Charlie decides to keep the baby. She tracks down Rhys, tells him he’s going to be a dad, and, the two begin a “we just spend time together because we are going to have a baby together” relationship.
Rhys, who is a likable perfect hero—I think these are rare– is wonderful after his initial shock at Charlie’s news. Rhys is like Gina—I can’t imagine the woman who wouldn’t want him in her life. He’s gorgeous, funny, sensitive, sexy, compassionate, and—this is how you know he’s almost too good to be true—a great listener. As he goes with Charlie to her doctors’ appointments, has lunch with her, takes walks with her, he’s struck again and again by how much he likes her and is attracted to her. Sure, she’s not the sex-goddess he met at the bar:
“Looking at her now, it was almost impossible to believe that it had been the same woman. Not that she wasn’t attractive and sexy in a far more subtle way in her current outfit, but there was definitely a Jekyll and Hyde thing going on as far as her appearance went.”
He, like Charlie, wonders what would have happened between the two if she hadn’t run out on him that morning. Rhys comes from a large, close, argumentative, loving family. All of his siblings are married and Rhys would like to be too. He’s excited about the baby, his family loves Charlie, and, when he’s with her, he feels a pull of desire he’s sure she shares. And so, he makes the occasional, very subtle overture and, every time, gets shut down. Why? Because Charlie’s so freaking hung on hers and his looks. He’s gorgeous, she’s not. Girls like her don’t belong with guys like him. By the last third of the book, Charlie was seriously ticking me off. As Gina asks, at the very least, “You don’t think being attracted to the father of your baby would be making the best of a bad situation?”
What bothered me even more though, than Charlie’s “we can’t be together because you are a golden god and I’m not” is that Charlie’s issues about her looks aren’t really about her looks. They’re really about her childhood and the lack of love she received from her inattentive, impossible to please, recently dead father. Charlie’s mother died giving birth to Charlie and, no matter what Charlie did—including joining the army—her father never gave Charlie his approval or his affection. Charlie, despite Gina’s friendship, despite Rhys’ care, doesn’t believe she deserves relational happiness. She’s sure she’ll always be alone and were she to let down her defenses and give her heart away, it would be returned to her unwanted and broken. This psychological problem has resonance—Charlie whinging that’s she’s not hot enough to hold onto a hunk like Rhys does not. And the former—Charlie feeling undeserving of love—doesn’t easily explain her issues about her looks. It didn’t work for me that Charlie’s fear of rejection played itself out in her insistence, despite input from people she cares for and respects, that she’s incapable of being physically attractive.
It’s a flaw in the book and one that irked me greatly. But, so much else about the book is wonderful, I forgave the flaw. I prized so much about More Than One Night. I adored that Charlie was in the military and speaks at length about her experiences there. It was a wondrous thing to read a book where the unmarried, working heroine gives abortion some serious thought. Charlie’s and Gina’s friendship is not only a great one, it feels vibrantly true. The love scenes are wonderfully sexy. Rhys’s family is also beautifully portrayed. He and his siblings have issues—Rhys is the successful capitalist in a family of do-good liberals—and they argue in ways that ring absolutely true. I loved the Walkers, loved their argumentative dinners, loved their nosy prying into Rhys’ life. They, like all the other characters in this book, are written as wonderfully real. They talk about their kids, their jobs, whose turn it is to take out the trash—you have such a knack for writing the everyday life.
I venerate the way you write. Your prose is fluid, descriptive, and insightful. When Rhys decides he believes Charlie when she tells him she’s sure it’s his baby, he thinks,
He believed her. He didn’t know why—he didn’t know her from a bar of soap—but he believed she was speaking the truth.
This phrase—“he didn’t know her from a bar of soap”—is perfect and, like so many of your sentences, gets the point across with clarity and innovative but simple imagery. Writing clean, crisp, engaging prose is not an easy thing to do and you, in book after book, do it splendidly. Thank you.
I think perhaps the best thing about More Than One Night is that Charlie does, on her own, take a leap of faith. She decides she’s more than plain, old Charlie. She makes a sad peace with the legacy from her father and decides to live her life on her terms, not his. By the book’s end, Charlie’s happiness is hers, hard-won and true. Seeing her trust herself was lovely. I finished the book, thinking, yet again, how much I enjoy your books.
This enjoyable–not perfect, but enjoyable–book gets a B/B+ from me.