More Than Words
Jill Santopolo follows up her runaway hit The Light We Lost with More than Words, the story of both a love triangle and the grieving process.
Nina Gregory has always been close to her father, Joseph, who raised her alone after her mother died when Nina was eight. She’s buried herself in her work at the family’s upper class hotel chain, The Gregory, which has become a recognizable name in New York society. Stuck in a mediocre and unexciting relationship with her fiancé. Tim, her best friend since childhood, Nina has been coasting easily through a passionless life.
Two things happen to change Nina’s life significantly. The entrance of the recently-divorced mayoral candidate Rafael O’Connor-Ruiz into her life and the death of her father. Once Joseph passes away, Nina learns that there were several secrets lurking under the surface of his happy, tender self-sacrificing veneer, leaving her to question everything she knew about him – and drawing her closer to Rafael. The attraction between them soon becomes so powerful that she can no longer ignore it.
Soon Nina finds herself struggling to fill her father’s shoes and to iron out the financial choices made by her father’s partner while Joseph was ill. All the while, Nina bounces between Rafael’s goofy, passionate, handsome charms and the more solid, less exciting Tim. Which man will she pick? And did her father really cheat on her mother and drive her to an unforgivable act?
More than Words will strike a lot of familiar chords with people who’ve read The Light We Lost, mostly in its love triangle between one spoken-for person, their dull but non-exciting (especially sexually) old flame and an exciting new one, though it doesn’t involve direct infidelity. The end result is a pleasant though not spectacular experience.
Nina is a decent character who emerges from dependence on her father and on the bond they formed when her mother died to independence and freedom. This story is about her changing and becoming a new woman, from fresh eyeliner to new house to a new self-confidence as a businesswoman. The most annoying thing about her is Nina’s odd quirk of thinking of the names of random objects around her to keep herself from being stressed/crying/lusting after Rafael. I suppose at least it was a unique.
Tim is – well, nice. His biggest flaw is his inability to grow along with Nina. Or give her regular orgasms. Otherwise he’s simply just a nice guy whose wrongness for Nina represents the homey comfort she needs to outgrow in order to become a new woman.
Rafael, meanwhile, suffers from a total lack of flaws. He’s a great politician, he cares about his kids, he’s the perfect lover, he’s funny, goofy, suave, sexy, etc. He seemed superhuman. I would’ve liked him so much more if he had more imperfections. He even comes with a readymade family of perfect kids who are never, ever difficult about Nina’s presence in their lives.
The dance performed by the three of them is typical of what Santopolo has done before and the safety-and-history versus new-and-exciting dance is one that’s been played a million times before in many, many other novels. The characters are pleasant and it’s easy enough to follow their struggles and empathize with them, but their world – glittering and remote – feels soap operaish and flat. I don’t have to tell you which man Nina ends up going for, and I will say that the final relationship is flat and dull and overly-manicured.
The minor characters are more interesting, including her father’s duplicitous business partner, and her found family of friends like Pris and Caro and Brent, although we don’t spend enough time with them to round them out.
The strongest parts of More than Words are about Nina’s emergence into independence. Those parts – along with the truthful and honest portrayal of grief and loss of a parent – make the book worth reading, even considering its otherwise simplistic plot choices.