It Had To Be You
It Had to Be You features an ensemble cast of characters connected to each other through the wedding business in New York City. Though the story has its heavier moments, it is a mostly optimistic tale of love and friendship blossoming despite adversity.
Liv and Eliot Goldenhorn have been partners in life and business for more than two decades, planning weddings for New Yorkers of all stripes and raising their son out of their New York brownstone. Their business, In Love in New York, caters to weddings of all kinds, and while Liv handles the people, Eliot handles the practical. And then, the unimaginable happens: Eliot has a heart attack and dies. Not at home, with Liv, but in Kentucky. With his mistress, a twenty-three year-old event planning intern.
Naturally, Liv’s life falls apart, and among that chaos appears Savannah Shipley, the very young intern her husband had been shtupping when he died. And with Savannah comes the unwelcome news that Eliot’s will bequeathed his half of their business to his naive, shiksa girlfriend. Said girlfriend wants to make the best of a bad situation- it’s not her fault Eliot died, and she didn’t know that he was married! Following a terrible review that made business trickle to a stop, Savannah is determined to make In Love in New York successful again. Given their mutual need for money and a purpose, Savannah and Liv have to work together, and maybe come to some kind of mutual understanding.
There are a number of other love stories entwined with the main arc, including gay couple Gorman and Henry, a couple on two different pages of life. They are florists, and while Gorman is middle-aged and content to be unmarried domestic partners, Henry longs to be married and have a baby. Then there’s Zia, a sometimes waitress and humanitarian, jumping from job to job around the world until she meets a gorgeous movie star who makes her want to stick around. Sam is a lonely divorcé working on building a life for his young daughter, while his business starts catering for In Love in New York. Zach and Darlene are musicians who have resisted the chemistry they feel when they perform, but enter into a fake relationship to deceive Zach’s judgemental parents. All of the characters learn and grow as the wedding season progresses, and have to figure out what exactly they are looking for.
The main issue I had with this book is how very much is crammed into it. While an ensemble romance has its appeal, this one has too many moving parts. A book like this can work when there is one principal couple, and then one or two secondary couples who complement the main storyline, but that isn’t really the case here. I would have been happier if the book had been longer, allowing more time for in-depth character development; if the author had had another hundred pages to play with, the characters would have had more breathing room. There are some really wonderful scenes with Liv and Savannah, and Liv and Sam, but they couldn’t land properly because the story had to pan to another character’s point of view. Alternatively, cutting a few points of view and writing a second book would have also alleviated the stress put on the story by the existence of too many subplots. Liv is the best established point of view character, and I think focusing on her relationship to all of the other characters would have strengthened the narrative and given it some focus. I really loved Savannah’s arc, but it would have been better served had it been given more space to develop.
The best love story, and the characters with the most chemistry by far are Zach and Darlene, who could have easily had a stand-alone story of their own. I liked most of the characters in general, though I found Gorman, and Zia’s love interest, to be less enjoyable. Gorman seems like a self-centered man who doesn’t appreciate his partner, and Zia’s love interest comes across as a man who doesn’t think about her needs, or listen to her issues. Zia shares deeply personal trauma with him, and he doesn’t take anything away from it and continues to make the same mistakes. The end is also problematic, as it ties everything up very neatly with a time-jump. I dislike such things when done to resolve issues rather than to give closure; the author just tells the reader what happened, and jumps to a happy future rather than actually doing the work on the page and showing us how that happy future is arrived at.
It Had to Be You has a lot of the attributes of a great read, and is certainly well written, but ultimately, it was far too busy and that didn’t serve the larger picture of the story. While parts of it were certainly enjoyable, I can’t really recommend it.