Inter-Office Male is a quirky little book that is probably more different than it is romantic. It’s written in an offbeat style and its characters have realistic, sometimes troublesome flaws. I’m not sure this is a story that will appeal to all romance readers, but lately the more unconventional something is, the more I’m bound to like it, and I liked this one quite a bit.
Walter is a middle management drone in a Detroit-based widget making company. His raison d’etre is the Excaliber widget, so his life isn’t too exciting or meaningful – until he meets Luna Wolfe. Luna sweeps into both his company and his life like a breath of fresh air, and he opens his lungs nice and wide to breathe in as much of her as possible. She’s amazing. Beautiful, fascinating, infinitely attractive, but not interested or even aware of him from a romantic standpoint. Walter doesn’t notice. His infatuation grows and grows until it interferes with everything in his life. So he decides to do the one thing he can do: ask her to lunch. He figures once she opens her mouth and actually speaks, the illusion will be broken and he will be able to get on with his life. This has always done the trick before.
His strategy doesn’t work. Luna in reality is every bit as appealing to him as fantasy Luna, and Walter begins to do everything in his power to woo and win her. Unfortunately for him, Luna is absolutely not into being wooed and won. She wants to play the field. She doesn’t want to be tied down. She doesn’t want to have a thing with any man, and certainly not anyone like Walter. Even his name is hideous. There’s no way she could fall for him. Or could she?
Inter-Office Male is labeled Fiction on the cover, but in every way that counts, this is a romance. The entire book is about Walter and Luna’s courtship, focusing on their emotions and the progression of their relationship. It is entirely character-driven; there is no external plot to speak of. It is true that the characters resemble those found in Chick Lit with their more modern worldviews and flawed personalities. But Luna is not the main character, and she is definitely not the book’s protagonist – Walter is. It made for an interesting change to see the sex roles switched and to watch Walter twist and squirm in love while Luna refuses to commit.
Richards writes using the omniscient voice, a point of view rarely encountered in fiction today, especially genre fiction. By this device the reader is privy to all kinds of information, often things the characters don’t even know about themselves. At first this narrative choice was a bit off-putting, making the characters seem more distant, more under the microscope, but after a while, it began to seem rather novel. The book felt different and unique and the omniscient point of view propelled the humor. I especially enjoyed the tongue-in-cheek observations about the city of Detroit and corporate America. Adding to the general quirkiness of the book, each little scene is labeled with its own heading, and each section of the book starts off with a slightly surreal descriptive passage followed by a short, attention-getting summary of what is to follow.
Walter and Luna seem genuine because they are actually pretty flawed. Walter is sweet and romantic but also clingy and more than a little obsessed. His falling-in-love experience will seem very familiar to anyone who’s been in love. He does lose track of himself a little in his infatuation; this is frustrating to watch but very realistic. Luna is self-absorbed, materialistic, and emotionally manipulative. At first she seems absolutely unlikable. She flirts with other men, she treats Walter very casually, and she refuses to recognize a good thing when she sees it. But as the story progresses, it becomes more apparent that her behavior, while often callous, is more defensive than actually manipulative, and at that point, she becomes more sympathetic. Their relationship is unsentimentally portrayed, and their problems are the problems of singletons everywhere. There are no kidnappings and no car chases here, just two people learning how to love and accept each other. What a nice change of pace!
Inter-Office Male was a romance with a sharper, slightly grittier edge to it. The cover compares this book to Nick Hornby’s High Fidelity, but it had far more in common with Jane Green’s Jemima J, both in voice and in its slightly unreal ambience. For readers who are looking for something really different and contemporary, I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend this book.