Yesterday I asked the readers of the RIASS Facebook page whether they make themselves finish reading a book that’s really not to their tastes, or whether they put such a book down. And if the latter, at what point would they do so?
There’s a reason that this review is appearing about a week later than originally scheduled. And that’s because it took me about a week to read this. And not because it’s a particularly long or challenging read. I simply found it incredibly difficult to get through, for a number of reasons, although having at long last finished the book, I’m a little more mixed in my response.
Faith Holland has returned to her small New England home town after hightailing it out of there after a disastrous wedding day in which her fiance Jeremy came out as gay. Faith is not only nursing a broken heart, but also a good deal of loathing towards Levi Cooper, whom she blames for encouraging Jeremy to come out. Levi, meanwhile, is still recovering from the collapse of his marriage. But sparks, of course, begin to fly between Faith and Levi, no matter how much the two try to deny it by turning their attentions elsewhere–Levi to his police work and his sister Sarah’s struggles with fitting in at uni; Faith to her landscape design business and her utter determination to fix up her widower father with a new partner.
In a way I’m glad that I forced myself to keep reading through this one, because the book’s few redeeming qualities are at its end. We begin to see some nuance to chauvinist Levi and obnoxious Faith (even though this mostly occurs through a series of excruciatingly long flashbacks), and they become slightly less appalling than they are at the outset of the book. Because, my goodness, if I knew these people in real life I’d be fleeing away from their venomous, misogynistic attitudes as quickly as my little legs could take me.
I’m afraid that I’m one of those people who doesn’t really find much humour in putting down people, and I’m not someone who appreciates sexist, misogynistic attitudes, and The Best Man has plenty of both. It’s this that had me very, very close to setting down the book by the end of the first chapter, and if I hadn’t been asked to review this one, I would have been done with it then and there.
The anti-women sentiments abound in this book, so I’ll just pull out a couple of examples for you. We have an instance where Faith is on a date with a man who is (unbeknownst to Faith) married, and whose wife shows up and begins calling Faith a “whore” over and over. We see Faith and her family constantly look down on other woman, calling her father’s maybe-girlfriend Lenora a “gold digger” (and indeed Lenora is portrayed as a money-grubbing individual; she’s also made a subject of ridicule for the outfits she chooses to wear); and behaving cruelly towards another woman they initially think might have been a possible partner for Faith’s father. And let’s not even get into the horrible scene where a transgender person is called a “shemale” and where Faith and her sisters behave horrifically cruelly.
To be honest, I’m not sure that I can think of one woman in the book who’s actually portrayed in a positive light. Perhaps Levi’s sister? (Although she’s not a great feminist herself–from memory, she calls her room-mate a “slut”.) It’s certainly not “slutty” Jessica, Levi’s ex from high school, and nor is it Levi’s ex-wife, who’s portrayed as a man-eating beast. If I subtracted a star each time the word “slut”, “slutty” or “whore” was used in this book, the universe would be a very dark place. (Incidentally, I just did a search and came up with fifteen instances of “slut” or “slutty”; sixteen of “whore”; one of “whorish”; and six of “bitch” or “bitchy”.)
We get the odd moment of positivity out of Faith’s grandmother, but that’s downplayed by her husband’s apparent loathing of her. With this sort of attitude towards woman going on in this town, it’s little wonder that Faith’s overarching goal in life is to get married (as you probably raised an eyebrow at in the book summary above, no, she didn’t seem to care at all about Jeremy’s sexual orientation or his own happiness, just as long as he married her in the end)–what else is there? Curiously, the only arcs that are dealt with with any degree of sensitivity are those of Jeremy and Levi.
What’s frustrating is that beneath all of this cheap name-calling and jokey sexist hatred, there is a story that’s worth reading, but in my opinion, it definitely doesn’t come out in the book’s current incarnation–or at least, for a reader of my own outlook it doesn’t. I have no issue with warts-and-all portrayals, but that’s not what’s going on here, and I’m afraid that this one wasn’t to my taste at all.
With thanks to Harlequin (via Netgalley) for the review copy
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Other books by Kristan Higgins: