It’s too bad that the couple in Ruby Lang’s House Rules hadn’t stayed together in the first place because their second-chance romance is a dull love story. This third standalone installment in the Uptown series features mildly sympathetic protagonists whose largely uncomplicated reunion unfolds at a humdrum pace.
Ex-spouses Lana Kuo and Simon Mizrahi have neither seen nor spoken to each other since their breakup seventeen years prior. When the forty-something divorcées randomly reconnect at a New York City open house, they agree, shortly thereafter, to cohabitate and share the rent on a fab Manhattan apartment. (I support this seventeen-year plan for affordable leasing. If I were to divorce my husband sometime in 2020, we could share the rent on a sweet Malibu beach house in 2037.) Lana and Simon set a four-month trial period on their living arrangement and create a list of house rules (i.e. no parties, refrigerator rights, etc.). The one unwritten rule is to live as platonic roommates. However, residual feelings from Lana and Simon’s young married past fuel an attraction that they are unable to ignore. A familiar issue eventually resurfaces and forces the two to decide whether or not they’re willing to repeat history.
Kudos to Lang for writing middle-aged romance protagonists. Simon is a typical nice guy with sweetheart tendencies; he cooks for Lana and takes care of her difficult cat. Lana is standoffish with Simon for fear of losing her heart and her autonomy to him. Both are considerate and take care with the other’s feelings. And, their self-aware inner dialogues make them appear somewhat relatable. However, I simply didn’t care enough about them as individuals or as a couple to be invested in their future. Perhaps more backstory and/or flashback scenes would have deepened my interest in them. Lang shares limited details about Lana and Simon’s former life together, so unfortunately it’s difficult to fully appreciate their personal growth over the past seventeen years.
While I’m glad to see my age group represented, Lana and Simon’s mundane home life is too realistic for my enjoyment. As a master noodle chef for a popular Manhattan restaurant, Lana often returns home from work when Simon is asleep. And at times, music teacher Simon gets home late and misses Lana before she leaves for work. So Lana and Simon are always waiting around for the other to show up. All they seem to do is work and have sex. There aren’t any scenes in which the lovers enjoy a fun outing or share in an experience that allows them to become reacquainted. Intimate conversations about the past or present are scant, so Lana and Simon’s newfound love, which is told rather than shown, is a little hard to believe.
Even though I have issues with the overall execution of House Rules, I appreciate the novel’s premise – sometimes love needs a second chance because it wasn’t ready the first time around. Lang also raises thought-provoking questions, such as ‘Is love enough?’ and ‘How much of your individual needs and desires would you sacrifice to ensure a lasting relationship?’
To be fair, Ruby Lang’s overall writing style is fine. But her characters lack a certain je ne sais quoi, and her plot, particularly the middle, is tedious. I had hoped that House Rules would turn out to be a great second-chance romance that I could eagerly recommend to those who, like me, believe in the beauty of reclaiming lost love. Sadly, this is the second C-rated second-chance romance review that I’ve written. Maybe three times will be the charm?