Beneath This Mask
I begin every January on a reading tear, determined that this is the year I will get through a respectable chunk of my ridiculous TBR pile. This resolution is made harder when I pick a title like Meghan March’s Beneath This Mask, a book that is neither good nor bad but simply a whole lot of blah. Instead of believing I’ve kicked off a year of fantastic, unforgettable stories, I’m left worried that I’ve already read all of the really great books.
Wall Street princess Charlotte Agoston lived the charmed life of a one-percenter before her father’s Bernie Madoff-like schemes were discovered and he was hauled off to prison for stealing billions from innocent investors. Certain that she will be vilified simply because of her last name, she runs away to New Orleans, changes her name to Charlie Stone, and adopts a Goth wardrobe, hairstyle and job to make sure that no-one will ever be able to mistake her for the daughter of the most hated man in America. She lives with the constant fear of discovery, but she’s managed to make a decent life for herself with friends, a giant beast of a puppy, and a nice no-strings-attached, friends-with-benefits arrangement with her boss, Con.
Great things are expected from Simon Duchesne, a city councilman and the son of a prominent politician who, according to his father’s grand plan, will also become a successful US Congressman. A veteran who is suffering from PTSD, Simon isn’t motivated to resist the push into the family business, yet he’s not enthusiastic about it either. Rather, he’d like to do something to help fellow vets like himself, those who don’t have the means and connections to get the help they need to overcome the crippling effects of PTSD.
Simon meets Charlie when, in a moment of drunken exuberance, his best friend decides to get a tattoo of his fiancee’s name on his derrière and drags his entire bachelor party into Voodoo, the tattoo parlor where Charlie works. He’s intrigued by the girl with the multi-colored hair and tattoo sleeves running down each arm, a girl who is nothing like the respectable society misses he usually squires about town. Despite thinking he’s a bit of an entitled douche, Charlie admits she is mildly attracted by the hot guy with the nice hazel eyes. Simon pursues. Charlie resists. He pursues harder, she waffles. He demurs, she teases. This goes on for a bit until, finally, the two manage to land on the same general intention at the same time and connect both physically and emotionally. But Charlie knows that anything permanent with Simon is completely impossible given her past.
To give you an idea of how little this story affected me, I spent a very long time writing the above summary. It’s not that this book is bad. It’s decently written, to be sure. It’s just… nothing happened that excited me in the least. Neither Charlie nor Simon are memorable characters. Simon, especially, comes off as very bland. The chemistry between them is tepid at best, demonstrated more by steamy sex scenes than any examples of real connection. Rather, their relationship consists of Charlie’s pendulum-like feelings about getting involved with Simon and his inability to avoid jumping to conclusions.
She’s attracted to him, but she knows they can never have any kind of relationship. Yet she leaves him a message on his cell phone suggesting they get together. When she bumps into him in person and he expresses interest, she tells him to go away. And then he gets her message and shows up at her place, where she tries to seduce him. She gets mad when he refuses to settle for a one night stand, but then is deeply hurt when she believes he is in a relationship with a local socialite. Charlie gives the word ambivalent a workout.
Simon is ready and willing to believe the worst about the woman he supposedly adores. He spots Charlie with her friend and former lover and instantly believes she slept with the guy despite the fact that they’ve been in a relationship for weeks. He learns the truth about her past – no spoiler there as you just knew that would eventually have to happen – and instantly treats her like a pariah who intentionally lied to him just to cause him pain. He goes to meet her at the airport, but when she doesn’t show up, he figures it’s because she blew him off rather than checking to see if perhaps she had any travel issues. In my opinion, this dude was in need of a good groveling session, but somehow it never happened.
When you throw in Charlie’s ill-conceived method of trying to prove herself innocent of any involvement in her father’s white-collar crimes, the entire Romeo-and-Juliet-ness of the daughter of a felon falling in love with the son of a politician falls flat.
I finished this book, which is saying something. I’m slightly interested in reading about some of the other characters, which is also saying something. But if you asked me flat out, I’d tell you to skip Beneath This Mask unless you are okay with a ho-hum reading experience to kick off the New Year.