Double Standards was a fun romp of a book. I picked it up because it’s set in Michigan, primarily in Detroit. I live in Michigan, and have lived in Detroit. I thought it might be fun to read a book with a more familiar setting, to take a break from books with cowboys or English Dukes.
Lauren Danner has a father who is ill with no job and no health insurance. Her father supported her for years, paying for her education, and now she feels the burden of doing her share to help him out. She goes to Detroit to see Philip Whitworth, a distant relative who is an influential businessman. He offers her a job spying on his business competitor and stepson, Nick Sinclair. She is supposed to find out the name of the man who is leaking Whitworth’s secrets to Sinclair. If she is successful, he will pay her a huge bonus in addition to her regular salary as a secretary.
Lauren feels uncomfortable with this arrangement, so she deliberately tries to flub her interview so she won’t get the job. But on her way out of the building, she takes a spill and turns her ankle. Observing the accident is Nick Sinclair, only Lauren doesn’t know this. She only knows that she has met an extraordinarily handsome man named Nick who seems to be some kind of an engineer. Sparks of attraction fly between them, and before you know it, her virginity’s history. And then he dumps her. And then she has to show up at work to fill the secretarial position his influence has gotten for her. But now she has a decision to make: does she hate Nick or love him? And what about her spying mission?
This is an older contemporary, but most things have held up pretty well. The clothes are kind of dated, as is the description of Detroit as a city of “glittering splendor.” And, of course in 1984 no one worried about AIDS, so there is no requisite mention of a condom. There is also a bit less concern with sexual harassment in the workplace. Nick comes on pretty strong to Lauren at work, and he’s her boss. I’m not sure you could get away with writing that today unless you’re Diana Palmer. All of these little details don’t detract much from the story, which really moves along; I had a hard time putting this one down.
The main reason I enjoyed the book was because of Lauren. She was super spunky and gave as well as she got. It was kind of painful watching her get drawn into Nick’s sexual web. She was terribly naïve at first, and I kept wanting to take her aside for a meaningful conversation on men who use women for sex. But after Nick dumped her, she picked up the pieces and moved on. She didn’t spend all the time moping and waiting for him to call. She didn’t develop a meaningful relationship with a bottle of Scotch. She exhibited none of the compulsive, self-destructive behaviors of a Bridget Jones type. She just went to work and got on with it. And when she saw Nick again, she really gave it to him. She let him know exactly what she thought of him, and exactly what chance he had with her: a snowball’s chance in Hell. All through this section I was nodding and thinking, “You go, girl!” It was so nice to see a heroine with real self-respect and assertiveness..
Conversely, the reason that this book was a B for me instead of an A or even a B+ was because of Nick. He’s a colossal jerk in the old 1980’s Jerk Tradition. He’s the Duke of Slut in a tux. A love-’em-and-leave-’em lothario. He’s handsome, rich, successful, and occasionally charming, but that’s all I could see he had going for him. Of course he does have some residual childhood pain, which is supposed to explain to the reader why exactly he would feel comfortable relieving a naïve girl of her virginity and then dropping her without any explanation. Frankly, the injured inner child explanation did not cut it with me, and I needed to see him change more than he did to believe that Lauren would ever really be happy with him. Nick does grovel at the end, but it wasn’t quite satisfying enough.
Still, Double Standards was a very fun read and really kept me turning the pages. I have not been a huge fan of Judith McNaught in the past. Whitney, My Love goes down as my Most Disappointing Read. The rape and the Big Misunderstanding in that one have made me leery of exploring McNaught’s work. But after this one, I’m very tempted to check out more of her backlist.