This makes it sound like the book is mostly about Nell and Gabe, but it's not. There's Riley, Gabe's partner in the agency, who's been pining over Suze for years. Of course, she doesn't even know he exists, and she's married. Things start getting rocky with her husband (Jack) because he wants her to stay home and look pretty and not go out, get a job, and have a life that doesn't involve him in every aspect - by the way, Suze was once "the other woman" when Jack was married to his second wife. Then there's Margie, who's dating a guy named Budge. Margie drinks a lot because Budge wants her to marry him and that's not what she wants to do. Technically, she's still married to her husband, who left years ago and may be dead, but if she declares him dead then she won't have a convenient excuse for turning down Budge. Also, back to Nell and Gabe, it's not like things are going perfectly for them either. Nell and Gabe fight a lot (and have a lot of make-up sex, but that's not the point) because they're both stubborn as hell. Gabe doesn't want any changes in his life and his agency, and Nell wants to redo everything at the agency and sees any sort of giving in as allowing him to use her as a doormat. Remember, however, the Nell is the secretary, and really, truly should be getting Gabe's approval and input before changing things and replacing furniture instead of railroading over him.
Granted, I haven't read many Jennifer Crusie books (I think this is my fifth one), but I'm used to her books being funny, romantic, and frequently heart-tugging and exasperating at the same time. I'm not used to her characters being annoying, rigid, and generally unlikeable, which is how I viewed the characters in this book most of the time. Basically, Riley came off as the most emotionally healthy character, and he was the one dealing with his feelings for Suze by dating/sleeping with anything female (like an undergrad, or Nell). Gabe's resistance to change was understandable, at first, but it got really annoying when he continued to resist even though changes that made sense. Nell acted like a bulldozer in Gabe's agency, and (because of her divorce) she was left with the impression that giving in a little is the same as letting yourself get walked on. Suze is a doormat who thinks she needs a man in her life in order to be complete, and she feels this so wholeheartedly that she's willing to give up having a life of her own in order to have a man around. At first I thought Margie was a bimbo, but it turns out that she was just a perpetual drunk with no tact.
None of these characters started to feel like people I'd actually want to get to know until maybe 50 pages before the ending of this 400+ page book. This wasn't the enjoyable, relaxing reading experience I was expecting when I plucked a book with "Crusie" on the cover off of a public library bookshelf. In her dedication, Crusie wrote "For Valerie Taylor, because she tells me when my scenes are boring, my syntax is twisted, and my characters are jerks..." Apparently, Ms. Taylor had her work cut out for her if this is the characters after they were made to be less like jerks, and maybe she should have also been working on telling Crusie to make her characters less like wet washcloths.
I don't think romance novel couples have to be perfect and have perfect relationships in order for them to be fun to read about. I do like for there to be something pleasant about their relationships, though. In addition, it probably didn't help (for me, anyway) that all or most of the characters were older than the usual romance novel age, which means they were old enough to be my parents. For example, I think Nell's son was a little over 20.
So, if I disliked the book this much, why did I keep reading it?
- Jennifer Crusie wrote it, so I was hoping it would get better.
- Some of the information about china that Suze, Nell, and Margie were talking about sounded interesting, even if I think Crusie could've edited those bits down more. The Walking Ware and Running Ware sounded like fun, though.
- Marlene, the dachshund, was interesting. My family has a dachshund, and, even though he doesn't flirt and act abused for biscuits, he does flirt for belly rubs.