Get A Life, Chloe Brown
Wealthy Chloe Brown has fibromyalgia. She also has a list of things she wants to experience (I’m so over ‘tick off items on a list’ as a plot device), and major abandonment issues related both to her diagnosis (a douche of a fiancé, rarely mentioned, who ditched her because of her illness) and her narcissism (her college friends have ‘abandoned’ her, which is clearly a Special Thing that only happens to Chloe, and not to 99% of people moving cities after graduation). A friend who also read the book told me, “She [Chloe] felt to me like a character that would stand in the middle of the room, ignore everyone else there, and yell ME!! at the top of her lungs.”
Red Morgan has just exited an abusive relationship in which his ex-girlfriend Pippa was both physically violent and emotionally manipulative. She “laughed and hit him on the shoulder with her bag.” Compliments on his appearance involved a glare and a comment like “You know what you look like.” When they were out and bumped into her family, she told them that he was “No one.” After an elderly neighbor accidentally mixed up their building mail slots, she declared that it wasn’t [her] fault that she, incensed by the literal crime committed against her, had reacted in the heat of the moment by finding the old lady’s post box and pouring her morning thermos of tea through the slot.
Oh, shoot. That’s not the ex-girlfriend Pippa. Everything in that paragraph was actually done or said by the heroine Chloe.
And here we hit the problem with this book which was, for me, insurmountable. Chloe is supposed to read as clever, caustic, and snarky, but instead, she reads as self-absorbed and mean, a disastrous partner for a man recovering from abuse. When Red thinks things like:
Maybe he was falling back into bad habits, seeing cruelty as a challenge. But everything in him rejected the idea that Chloe could ever really be cruel…
– it just broke my heart. It’s precisely the kind of self-gaslighting that abusive relationships instil in people. If Chloe loves Red, she needs to express herself differently. Everyone deserves a relationship in which ‘Is this person being vicious or just sarcastic?’ isn’t even a question.
The worst part of the book is the climax. In a completely reasonable misunderstanding, Red thinks that Chloe has slept with him for slummy kicks like Pippa did, which is understandably triggering for him. Chloe’s response is to tell him that if he walks out of her door, to not “fucking come back.” Seconds after walking out, Red calms down and asks to come back in. Chloe refuses.
Earlier in the book, Red had thought to himself:
If this were Pippa, she’d take away what he wanted most, to punish him for being angry, or to manipulate him into forgiving her. But Chloe wasn’t going to do that. Of course she wasn’t. She never would.
But that’s exactly what she does! She takes herself away to punish Red for daring to have a feeling that made her expend any emotional effort in his direction. For some reason the author decides that this means that Red owes Chloe an enormous grovel, when it should, beyond a shadow of a doubt, be the other way around. (I do give the author credit for having Chloe give a direct apology, but the fact that she equates ‘I was scared of intimacy because my college friends left me’ with ‘you were scared because your previous partner shattered your career and your self-worth and literally stabbed you with a fork’ is disturbing and, again, narcissistic.)
What’s good about this book? The prose is great. Hibbert has a deft and funny way with words, as when Chloe is turned on by Red at an inconvenient moment:
“She sternly informed her nipples of these pertinent facts, but they gestured rudely at her and continued to tingle like a pair of slutty batteries.”
That’s good stuff. I also liked an under-used new friend Chloe made named Annie, but that was offset by the pair of sisters and the sassy grandma straight from stock character heaven.
Chronic illness needs more rep in romance, but the rest of the plot has to be recommendable as well. I simply cannot recommend a romance where one partner would have been better off alone.