I pre-ordered a signed and personalized copy of this book from The Ripped Bodice because I really like Maureen Lee Lenker after listening to her appear many times on one of my favorite podcasts, Screen Drafts. She always comes on and talks about classic movies, and she talks about them with such confidence, knowledge, and deep affection; I like her so much that I decided beforehand that I was going to love her romance novel just as much. Well.
It Happened One Fight (the title is an homage to the Clark Gable/Claudette Colbert movie It Happened One Night, which I watched this weekend for the first time and loved) follows Joan Davis (a hybrid of Joan Crawford and Bette Davis, her biggest inspirations according to the author’s note at the end) and Dash Howard (Clark Gable-lite) as they take their off screen acrimony to something romantic due to an onscreen marriage somehow becoming real. Of course the accidental marriage leads to them falling in love.
To state it in the nicest possible terms, this is the book of a smart person who loves both romances and her subject of classic Hollywood, but doesn’t quite know how to strike a spark on page. There were definitely a lot of debut novel things in here that I could have overlooked but the overall story and the main characters never really caught me. There was only one moment where I felt that book magic you’re supposed to feel when a character leaps off the page and into your mind and becomes a real person, but it was only one line in 363 pages. It wasn’t enough.
I also had a huge problem with the gossip columnist who was out to get Joan. I know she was based on real women, but somehow I don’t think those women had as much girl on girl hate to work out as the character in here did. The stakes felt lowered because of her. By 2/3 of this book, all the stakes were external to Joan and Dash’s inner journeys, and the little I’d been caring evaporated.
If you’re really into Old Hollywood cinema and history you might enjoy this more than I did, but I wouldn’t go out of my way to recommend it.
[2.5 stars, rounded up]