Completely is the third installment in Ruthie Knox’s New York series, but can be read as a standalone. It tells the story of Rosemary and Kal, two folks from very different worlds and in very different places in their own lives, who find themselves slowly and inexplicably weaving a life together. Though a slow read, I found it enchanting and grounded, but it may not work for everyone.
Two things first: older heroine/younger hero trope alert and the cover is very wrong for this story. This is a novel about a bi-racial couple, and as I’ve poked around the internet for other opinions about this book, I’ve found that fact being underplayed. Our hero and heroine are not just from different racial backgrounds, but different ethnic, cultural, and generational ones. The ways they work through those issues adds such richness to the story and depth to their relationship and it was through their conversations about their differences that I came to believe in their happily ever after.
Rosemary is our thirty-nine year-old English heroine, who has recently been woken up from a sleepy life. Her marriage recently disintegrated, but instead of grieving for it, she finds that she wasn’t all that emotionally invested in it in the first place. She commits to climbing all of the world’s highest peaks (not a choice I’d make, but it takes all sorts) as part of her re-entry into the world and her discovery of who she really is.
We meet Rosemary as she is in Nepal, ready to climb to the summit of Everest. There’s an ice doctor – someone who determines the mountain’s suitability on a particular day – who is thwarting her desire, and Rosemary is frustrated. She just wants to do the thing she came to do and is pleased when the surly ice doctor grants permission to climb.
It all goes horribly, horribly wrong, however, when the mountain shifts and causes Rosemary and the ice doctor – who we now know is Kal – to land in physical danger. When they are rescued and delivered to an hotel, Rosemary has lost her belongings and her sense of the world – and the two end up sharing an adrenaline-fueled night of sex back at the lodge.
Kal, our thirty-two year-old hero, is half-Nepalese and half-American and lives in New York. His family is deeply tied to the mountain, and he has been connected to Everest and the industry around it for his entire life. This is a conflicted connection and he spends most of his PoVs wrestling through it.
Despite the sexual tryst near the beginning of the story, this book is slow. I fell into it like one settles down for a nap – it had to lull me into comfort (which it did slowly) and then all of a sudden I could not stop turning pages and was completely invested. There’s a lot of plot that happens around the character development – there are a few road trips, a lot of conversations, meeting of families – so that strangely, it feels both frantic and leisurely paced. That slow pace doesn’t, therefore, come from the plot, but from Kal and Rosemary themselves. We are in their heads and in the middle of their relationship as they grapple with life post-avalanche and post-each other.
How Ms. Knox has them knit the couple together seems deeply authentic to me – a person in a cross-cultural marriage who has had some of the same arresting moments that Rosemary faces. I can, however, see this being so foreign to other readers that they won’t be able to buy Kal and Rosemary as a couple. I could spin off into a treatise on cultural structuring here, but I’ll spare you all the rant my sociology students get and just say that every person is subconsciously affected by the cultures in which they have resided. If you have only resided in one culture (say, Texan) and spend your time with other people who have only resided in that culture, you may not even notice the assumptions you make about the world. These assumptions are normal to you. However, if you grew up in Southern California and find yourself in Boston for college, you’ll notice some differences. Those differences will be even more pronounced if you grew up in Germany and end up in the Philippines, and how you navigate those differences then becomes part of your cultural structuring.
Kal, as a man of multiple cultures, is more aware of the questions Rosemary has than she is at the beginning of the book. He anticipates what will shock her – he’s been down this road before and he knows the potholes – and is gentle as she navigates their blended reality. He’s still human, and has never fallen so hard for someone before, so he’s also dumb a few times, but so is she. Their recovery from their idiocy is what sold me on these two; I absolutely believe they’re going to make it work.
This book will not suit everyone. It’s slow as molasses, it has a ton of stuff about Nepal and Everest and conservation and climbing that some readers may just skim through (but I, the giant nerd that I am, lapped up with a spoon and raced off into rabbit holes of research and library holds), and the couple’s main conflicts may be too foreign to some readers to even seem like conflicts. But, man, did I dig this book.