– by Sheryl Wright
I must admit, after having had a highly enjoyable read of my first-ever Sheryl Wright book, “Don’t Let Go” (cheers, K Aten, for rec-ing it on your recent Spec Tues post on TLR!), I was curious about her latest outing, “Cause and Affection,” after reading its blurb. Whereas I was utterly captivated by the macro and micro details of how a huge marine engineering company operated and functioned in “Don’t Let Go”, which naturally perked up my nerd, I was even more intrigued by the assumption that I’d also be given an inside look into the inner workings of advertising in “Cause and Affection“! I was not wrong and was I gratifyingly delighted, indeed! Much obliged, Ms. Wright!
Wright seems to have similar themes in her stories – rich girl/poor girl, big families (or groups), accidental-love. This book checked all the boxes except that this time, the accidental-love theme had a fauxmance twist. Well, not the usual fauxmance in the conventional sense where both MCs are in on the “game.” In this story, the “fauxmance” arrangement was between Kara’s siblings (instead of Kara, the MC herself!) and the other MC, Madeleine, a down-and-out, cash-strapped actor/performer in Vegas enticed to accept one last highly paid acting job as someone’s faux-date for a week (so she could afford to pay for her return to her hometown in Minnesota). Yes, Kara was the target of her siblings’ bonkers “fauxmance” plot, which was concocted in the hopes of reviving their sister’s mojo in taking over the family’s legacy, the big, renowned advertising firm in Canada, from their hateful, bigoted, misogynistic father, in response to Kara’s recent decision to resign from the company! Mad or what, eh? I must say, Wright crafted quite a creative plot for a tale of romance, especially given that I’d never come across anything like that in lesfic before. I applaud her ingenuity because it sure elevated the level of intrigue and thrills for me as a reader of Les-Rom! Naturally, I devoured the entire book faster than you can say, “Gersundheit!”
Obviously there were some surprises along the way, what with this outrageous plot and all! First and foremost, though, was to discover that Madeleine turned out to be a straight-as-an-arrow hetero who never had any desire or attraction toward women in her life! Nada! And she was hired to play a lesbian!! Bloody hell! To say that I was a little thrown by that revelation was an understatement, not to mention, Madeleine expressing her utter unease and discomfort about playing one, which irked me a little, tbh, because I didn’t expect to be reading about it in a lesfic romance, mind! So of course I was bracing for lots of questions and stereotyped assumptions about lesbians coming from Madeleine’s POV. Needless to say, Wright went into details about Madeleine’s constant inner monologue about her previously held stereotypes, skewed assumptions about lesbians and the nature of two women being sexually attracted to each other, her endless comparisons to her intimate relationships with men, be it physically, emotionally or intellectually. I was a little apprehensive to read all that at first but as Wright delved more into Madeleine’s inner psyche about her past relationships with men, I began to find Madeleine’s musings, confusion and curiosity a bit tragic, especially when she slowly discovered to her shame just how sheltered, prejudiced, and ill-informed she was about the inner-workings of love, intimacy and relationships, regardless of gender or sexuality. Not having any knowledge nor interest about relationships with men whatsoever, I was, nonetheless, intrigued by just how much contrast there was in the interactions, behaviour, expectations that men held with women in their shared intimacy and relations! Normally, I wouldn’t give it the time of day when it comes to hetero relationships (I skip them whenever they regrettably show up in my lesfic reads) but because it was a huge part of Madeleine’s character, I explored it solely from Madeleine’s POV and it was…shall we say, enlightening? Yeh, that’s it.
Anyway, it was fascinating to explore Madeleine’s slow but steady transformation as she struggled to reconcile her unexplained but clearly undeniable sexual attraction toward Kara the more she knew about her. Wright meticulously described Madeleine’s mental and emotional reaction at every stage of her relationship with Kara as her growing interest, attraction and attachment toward her target became more prevalent and indisputable. It was as if I was witnessing Madeleine’s journey to self-discovery and sexual awakening for real! All the nuances expressed were grounded in authenticity that I truly believed in Madeleine’s transformation – a bona fide heterosexual who just so happened to find herself attracted to another woman. It wasn’t contrived at all. In fact, it read like a true life-altering experience that a person such as Madeleine would face IRL.
In regard to Kara, she was next-in-line for the CEO position in the huge advertising firm (a merger of two big family-owned companies) she’d worked for in her entire career. That was, if her father would allow it. I won’t go into details about just how despicable her father was to Kara except to say that he was the main reason Kara finally decided to resign from the company. Alas, that was the catalyst for her meddling sibs to take the drastic step of concocting the fauxmance plot! All to lure her back to taking the reins! Omg! The lengths people go to sometimes, don’t they?
One thing I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention – Wright’s vivid and visual description of the historical landmarks, architecture, external surroundings, locales and the streets of Toronto, Canada! I utterly loved the intimate knowledge Wright obviously has about her homeland which she generously shared in this story. Visually resonating. I felt like I was there. Also, her signature detailed descriptions of a profession featured in her story. This one was all about advertising and Wright, as usual, meticulously described all the nuts and bolts about how advertising worked from behind the scenes, all the planning, strategies, ideas, ad campaigns, artistic creativity. I learned so much from Wright’s presentation of its industry through Kara’s eyes what with all the crafted scenarios that were richly informative and utterly fascinating!
Anyway, back to Madeleine’s role-play. I really enjoyed the initial flirtatious encounters between the two women which gradually turned a little more serious as they spent more time together. I was tickled by Madeleine’s constant comparison of her stimulating, emotionally invested, increasingly sensual and deep encounters with her target to her past encounters with men, which had always left much to be desired as far as she was concerned but had assumed it was normal…or perhaps conditioned to think it was? (well, I wouldn’t know, being steadfastly gay and all! Oh, the buggery bollocks of the heterosexual world, eh!) Until her deeply felt connection – physical, intellectual and emotional – and natural chemistry with Kara, a woman, of all the unexpected discovery and revelation about herself! I applaud Wright for delving into Madeleine’s internal struggle about the possibility that she wasn’t as hetero as she believed herself to be! Talk about a colossal whiplash of an epiphany, eh? All her questions, curiosity and her eventual determination to face the truth about herself and her authentic emotions and feelings about Kara were enlightening for me to explore. A woman who believed she was straight all her life, never had any indication that she was anything but a bona fide heterosexual suddenly found herself attracted to another woman, sexually, emotionally, intellectually. One woman in particular. Fascinating!
Anyway, a plan wouldn’t be a plan if it didn’t have any hiccup along the way, would it? That’s when pivoting comes in. Just like life, innit? It can never be smooth-sailing or there wouldn’t be a journey, would it? It’s by design so we can pivot…if we choose to. When we’re at a crossroads, we either choose to pivot toward our ultimate heart’s desire or remain at status quo. Pivot. A word that you’ll find very relevant to this story in more ways than one, literally and figuratively. Reckon you’ll sort it out when your read the book. So, back to Madeleine’s role-play, not surprisingly, one can only pretend so much. Where emotions and feelings, matters of the heart are involved, there’s a fat chance they could be reined in. One can’t help who they fall in love with, can they? So that line…that professional conduct line as far as Madeleine was concerned? Well! And when all hell broke loose with Kara finding out about it and shite hit the fan?! THAT other line (moral, decency, sensitivity!) that Kara’s sibs seemed to be oblivious to?! Let’s just say that if Joey were there, he’d have some choice words for Madeleine and Kara’s meddling sibs when it came to crossing the line….!!
I was absorbed in the unfolding of that whole scenario from Kara’s perplexity right until that fated moment, all played out in slow-motion. A devastating realisation that she had been played. Good and proper. Wright captured the myriad of emotions that engulfed Kara at that moment of truth with fervour. The weight of such a betrayal that befell her was depicted ever-so acutely you could feel her crushing defeat and broken resolve as she retreated. (Sod ‘em bloody busybody sibs! Poor Kara!)
Speaking of, I was pleased to discover that the demise of the fauxmance plan occurred halfway through the book and not toward the end as I thought. I thought Wright made the right decision to focus more on the aftermath, how Kara and Madeleine worked to come back from it, Kara’s decision about whether to lead her company into the future or stay resigned, further development of Kara and Madeleine’s relationship, their deepening intimacy, their growing love for each other, how it’d affect the internal politics within the company’s corporate structure that involved all the major players concerned including Kara’s father. Needless to say, I thoroughly enjoyed all the manoeuvring, the strategic alliances, the family dynamic that Wright crafted alongside Kara and Madeleine’s journey. I loved that both women were career-orientated and Wright’s depiction of their personal lives entwined with their respective professional ambitions were not at odds with each other or a source of guilt.
I was pleased with Wright’s astute awareness of the importance of portraying a long-term relationship between two established, career women who loved, trusted and supported each other’s dreams, passion, goals in their love and work life, as authentically as real-life. I was particularly appreciative of Wright’s focus on the long-distance angle of their relationship as Madeleine finally had an opportunity to realise her lifelong dream to direct, choreograph and produce in showbiz, how she and Kara made it work, but obviously not without some issues raised which I thought Wright covered it with realistic effect. It’s not common to have long-distance relationship romance stories featured in lesfic so I applaud Wright for delving into it, not just superficially, but really opening up the “can of worms” that long-distance relationships stereotypically entail, i.e. trust, intimacy, commitment. Although, Wright opted to lighten the intensity of the situation that Kara and Madeleine had to face instead of delving into the angst on a more visceral level, which I’d have preferred. Nonetheless, it worked out well in the end even though it was resolved and tied up in a neat little bow without much fanfare. But I have no complaints. I liked it.
Don’t know about you but there were a couple of segments toward the end of the book where I felt that the continuity and flow were slightly disconnected, like some paragraphs were left out in the editing room floor or something. Prolly not, but it sure read like something was lost in translation between the last piece of one segment and the start of the next? I reckon it was just a glitch of some sort or perhaps it was just Wright’s style? Or maybe it’s just me. I don’t know. Ignore me. It didn’t affect the overall structure and flow of the story, which is what matters, dunnit?
Anyway, all in all, I enjoyed exploring this creatively crafted “fauxmance“-type trope with all the thrills of a fake relationship, corporate politics and power struggle, family drama and conflict, the very relevant, very real subject of confronting one’s sexuality and sexual awakening with honesty and truth, not to mention, all the nitty-gritty details and descriptions about the inner-workings of advertising, corporate culture and showbiz, which Wright skilfully constructed to present this outrageously madcap but ultimately refreshing and eccentric love story! I think fans of romance and fauxmance may find this slightly different take on the trope enjoyable and refreshing. It certainly was a jolly good and fun read for me!
**I was given, with much thanks and appreciation, an ARC copy by Bella via NetGalley in return for an honest review.
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