By day, I'm a domestic violence prosecutor. By night, I read romance to restore my faith in love, relationships, and humanity in general.
It's been a long time since I read a book and had no complaints. A lot of times I find myself entertained by the story, or transported by the writing, or I love the characters, but… there's always a "but." Not here. This book has no "buts." I loved it. I loved the story, I loved the characters, I loved the romance, I loved the writing. I got to the end, breathed a happy sigh, and then, instead of turning to the next book in my mountainous TBR pile, I zoomed back the progress bar on my kindle app and read the last third of Truly all over again, just to savor it.
I love Ruthie Knox, and I'm pretty sure this is her best work yet. It starts with the heroine, May, in a Manhattan sports bar. She's a fish out of water: she's only been in New York a few weeks, having moved to finally be with her long-time boyfriend, a football quarterback who used to play for the Packers in May's native Wisconsin but who now plays for the Jets. -But that relationship is suddenly and abruptly over as a result of his very poorly executed, mortifyingly bad marriage proposal, to which May did not react well. She left him, but moments later she got mobbed by paparazzi (because he's a famous football star) and simultaneously mugged, and now she's alone in a strange city with no money, no phone, no ID, and a single pair of ugly shoes.
Other writers would have taken this premise and wrung every once of humiliation and debasement, leaving May a broken, pathetic woman (I'm looking at you, Kristan Higgins), but not Ruthie Knox. May is desperate and embarrassed, yes, but even at her worst she's got starch in her spine and wits in her head. She is nobody's doormat.
At the bar, May meets Ben, a cranky-faced grump who is the very definition of 'unapproachable.' He is a successful chef forced into temporary unemployment by the non-compete agreement he signed when he let his ex-wife buy him out of their restaurant and their marriage, and he's still wrestling with the anger management issues that led to the demise of that prior life. He snaps and barks and growls like a wounded animal poked with a stick, but for all of his prickliness, he is wonderfully self-aware, and he always apologizes and tries to make things right.
Since May can't fly home without ID and she can't replace that until businesses open after the Labor Day weekend, Ben spends the long weekend showing her around the city, but for May, these days of aimless tourism are revelatory as she discovers how brave and strong she can be on her own, and decides what kind of person she wants to be moving forward. She falls in love with Ben, of course (and he with her), but she's not willing to let him use her or take her for granted, which has been the problem with ever other relationship she's ever had.
At the end of the weekend, not ready to say goodbye yet, Ben offers to drive May home to Wisconsin. Here, the Ben and May's cozy new-infatuation bubble crashes hard against the reality of May's family: her sister, Allie, days away from marrying the perfect man (but having serious second thoughts), her mother, who still cherishes the hope that May will come to her senses and get back with the quarterback, her father, who hides in the basement watching football. Going home could have pushed May back into the box of old habits, but instead it only strengthens her new-found self-confidence. She doesn't want to be the sensible sister anymore, the good girl who does as her mother wants, who takes the 'smart' career path instead of taking the risks that speak to her soul, the trophy wife who marries the rich man who will always provide for her.
Her sister Allie's relationship is perfect on the surface (just as May's relationship with Dan-the-footballer appeared on to outsiders), but is fundamentally broken. By contrast, May and Ben's love seems all wrong -- too fast, too sudden, the future too uncertain, threatened by his anger and by her need to smooth over all tension -- but it's real and wonderful, and May and Ben just need to learn to trust it, and to trust each other.
***I received a free ARC from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.***