REVIEW: Beach Read by Emily Henry
A romance writer who no longer believes in love and a literary writer stuck in a rut engage in a summer-long challenge that may just upend everything they believe about happily ever afters.
Augustus Everett is an acclaimed author of literary fiction. January Andrews writes bestselling romance. When she pens a happily ever after, he kills off his entire cast.
They’re polar opposites.
In fact, the only thing they have in common is that for the next three months, they’re living in neighboring beach houses, broke, and bogged down with writer’s block.
Until, one hazy evening, one thing leads to another and they strike a deal designed to force them out of their creative ruts: Augustus will spend the summer writing something happy, and January will pen the next Great American Novel. She’ll take him on field trips worthy of any rom-com montage, and he’ll take her to interview surviving members of a backwoods death cult (obviously). Everyone will finish a book and no one will fall in love. Really.
CW – There are hints and vague descriptions of Gus’s abusive childhood. Gus interviews survivors of and visits the scene of a cult.
Dear Ms. Henry,
First off, about the blurb – this is not a cutesy rom-com novel. No, not even with the cartoon image thrown in is it one. As the book starts – January seems to be a depressed drinker. There are hints as to what has brought her to where she is and to how she’s acting. Probably the best bit that shows the state she’s in, though, is when she tells her new (at that point unknown due to the dark) next door neighbor in a weary voice that “She’s so tired.” That exchange and that scene convey it not only to us but to him as well. So, if there’s no meet-cute or montaging going on here, what is it? It’s a reunion book that is going to dig deep into both January and Gus, lancing hidden pockets of pain, exposing sensitive nerves, and hearts.
Gus and January are not strangers but have a long and complicated history. In college they were rivals, story critiquers, one night make out sessioners. One thing January knows is that Gus has a short relationship attention span and anyone starting one with him should know the expiration date will be short. He has since gone on to write literary fiction that peeks into twisted depths and in which everyone dies – or so January says. She writes romantic women’s fiction because she wants her readers to have the happy ever after we all deserve.
Gus’s main problem with January’s chosen genre seems, to her, to be the happy endings. Gus basically announces he has a “hard time reading happy endings.” But wow, I gotta say I love how January coolly defends the romance genre.
“I know how to tell a story, Gus, and I know how to string a sentence together. If you swapped out all my Jessicas for Johns, do you know what you’d get? Fiction. Just fiction. Ready and willing to be read by anyone, but somehow by being a woman who writes about women, I’ve eliminated half the Earth’s population from my potential readers, and you know what? I don’t feel ashamed of that. I feel pissed. That people like you will assume my books couldn’t possibly be worth your time, while meanwhile you could shart on live TV and the New York Times would praise your bold display of humanity.”
The Bet is more than the blurb promises. It isn’t just an “I can write in a different genre better than you can” challenge. They both need money and winning one of the payoffs, having a well-known author pimp your new book, would do amazing sales things (eg money) for either of them. Okay yes, there are bragging rights on the line as well. So January is going to “hop on the Bleak Literary Fiction train” while Gus is going to go all “When Harry Met Sally.”
“His eyes bored into me, that evil smile climbing the corner of his top lip. “You sure? This could be truly humiliating.”
An involuntary laugh sprang out of me. “Oh, I’m counting on it,” I said. “But I’ll make it a little easier on you. I’ll throw in a rom-com crash course.”
“Fine,” Gus said. “Then I’ll take you through my research process. I’ll help you lean into your latent nihilism, and you’ll teach me how to sing like no one’s listening, dance like no one’s watching, and love like I’ve never been hurt before.””
I really enjoyed watching the creative juices begin flowing in January and getting a glimpse of an author in the throws of planning, plotting, and writing a book. Seeing the spark of creation in action.
There’s a lot of shit that both January and Gus get to deal with. Each has skeletons and dark corners in their pasts even though the world might not have seen those. When emotions surge and burst out of tightly controlled facades, there will be surprises and there will be pain. Once those are let lose, they will be impossible to stuff back inside.
They each have reasons for writing their respective genres: she needed HEAs while acting happy during her mom’s chemo treatments. Because of his childhood, he needed to discover why people stay in bleak, dark situations when they might have left.
Since we’re only seeing January’s POV, Gus’s actions and statements (past and present) are of course open for misinterpretation. But mistakes are made based on a lot of things and not just “because the plot needed it.” We all see events and listen to statements through the prism of ourselves. When another person, for whatever reason, doesn’t share every speck of personal data about themselves, things get even more muddled.
As January learns more about herself and comes to terms with her family’s reality, she finds herself learning more about who Gus really is and reinterpreting all she ever knew about him. There is some drama, a mystery, pain, facing the fact that not everyone in your life is perfect, and unleashing years worth of feelings but there’s humor here as well. I wish is that more of Gus’s writing could have been shown but since this is first-person, that wasn’t going to happen. There were also a few subplots that I didn’t feel added much to the story. The bantering is great, the way Gus and January end their new-to-me genres is fun and true to their selves, and, though there was a little bit of repetition at times, I enjoyed this much more than I felt I would. B