This may be more rant than review. Go buy the book, it’s good.
I had this whole other review written and I expected to publish it Wednesday morning. It talked a little bit about how great Cannonballers are and some #BlameMalin jokes. I reviewed the book. I was debating a spoiler section at the bottom where I could talk about what I really loved. And then I read a tweet from The Ripped Bodice about Robert Gottlieb’s fabulously condescending “round up” of Romance books. I’ve definitely read Gottlieb’s roundup many more times than it deserves. I’m not sure why I’m allowing it so much space in my brain. I’m not embarrassed by the books I read. Some of them are the equivalent of a bag of cheap marshmallows and some of them are like a nutritionally balanced meal with a glass of wine. Whatever the quality of the book, I can and will defend my reading choices.
Paragraph after smug paragraph, Gottlieb got under my skin. Maybe it’s because the modern “working girl” romance I had just read deserved so much better. Here’s what Gottlieb has to say about Romance and the women who read the genre.
The hundreds of romance novels — perhaps thousands, if you include the self-published ones that constitute their own phenomenon — just published or due to appear in the next few months essentially fall into two categories. There are the Regency romances (descended from the superb Georgette Heyer, whose first one, “Regency Buck,” appeared in 1935). And there are the contemporary young-woman-finding-her-way stories that are the successors to the working-girl novels that for decades provided comfort and (mild) titillation to millions of young women who dreamed of marrying the boss. This formula reached its apogee in 1958 with Rona Jaffe’s “The Best of Everything,” whose publishing-house heroines find either (a) business success at the price of stunted love, (b) true love and wifey bliss, (c) death. But almost 60 years have gone by since the virgins of “The Best of Everything” hit the Big Apple, and real life has had its impact not only on modern romance but — as we shall see — on modern Romance.
Every time I read that paragraph, I find something new wrong with it. I’m so glad there’s an 86 year old white man to tell me that stories about modern working women finding love peaked almost 70 years ago. I guess all those women can all stop writing now. In case you are wondering, the new (not entirely welcome) additions to modern Romance are orgasms, girl friends, and not having to choose love or career.
It’s too bad that he failed to notice the many ways in which the Romance genre is evolving. Fuck that guy. I’m going to get to the reviewing.
Dating You Hating You is a modern working woman Romance. Evelyn “Evie” Abbey would recognize Gottlieb’s smug, dismissive smarm intimately. Evie is not a bright eyed naïf, she is in her early thirties with an established career. She is the star of this story. Even though she and Carter trade off chapters, Evie is the star and she deserves to be the star. She doesn’t want to marry her boss, Brad. She wants to survive him. Using a consistent pattern of word choice, emotional blackmail, and just enough praise to be confusing, Brad undermines her and keeps her perpetually set up for a fall. Everyone knows her boss has problems working with women, and no one is surprised that he is the boss. Women are supposed to deal with it. Almost every woman who has ever held a job has been in a situation like this.
Evie meets Carter at a party. It’s a good meet cute. Completely believable. She has reservations because they are both talent agents and he is younger. After some text flirting, they do go on a date. Their mutual attraction sings off the page. And then the shit hits the fan. Her company buys his company and suddenly they are in a manufactured Highlander situation for a job – there can only be one! The competition is ridiculous and created solely to give Brad leverage to get rid of Evie. Despite their best intentions, paranoia about their jobs and miscommunications put them at odds.
Carter gets an education in the sexism Evie and other women face at work. He finds himself being used as a tool against Evie and is forced into “wokeness.” Carter has to evolve in order to be in a place where Evie can let down her guard.
“I tried nice, Carter,” she says, “and here I am, fighting to keep my job—a job I’m more qualified for, if we’re being honest. You might be the one everyone likes, but I’m the one who gets the job done. So stay out of my way.”
One of the challenges Romance writers face is finding believable reasons to keep a couple clearly meant for each other apart. The hate to love trope is a good one (recently done very well in The Hating Game, another workplace romance with a woman who is not fresh off the farm). Christina Lauren put their too new to be solid couple into an impossible situation with the kind of external stressors that can’t be solved by just a conversation. Evie and Carter have to get to a place where they don’t like each other and they don’t like themselves before they can find their way back to what’s important – personally and professionally.
Dating You Hating You is my favorite Christina Lauren book to date. It is almost perfect. You should read it.
A lot of people with more experience and greater eloquence have responded to Gottlieb’s bullshit. One interesting analysis was done on Twitter by Jen, a reviewer at The Book Queen. She applied Joanna Russ’ methods of suppression to Gottlieb’s article. A friend kindly storified the tweets for me. It is well worth a read. Joanna Russ is now on my list of must reads.
At the the end of his roundup, Gottlieb declared Romance “harmless” and posited that it was ok for women to dream. Harmless dreaming. You only have to read the many romance reviews on the Cannonball Read to see that there is more than harmless dreaming going on.