Now That It's You
A romantic comedy with themes of death and infidelity may sound like an oxymoron but if anyone should be able to pull it off, it’s Tawna Fenske. She has the knack of taking real life situations and imbuing them with heart and humour. While her series books fall into the lighthearted romantic comedy category, her recent single title books have veered into more emotional territory. They still maintain the comedic banter and awkward situations that make her readers return time and again, but definitely come with more angst. Now That it’s You follows that trend and while the writing style is quirky and engaging as always, the romance falls flat and the story left me feeling more melancholy than amused.
Chef Meg Delaney is ready to forgive her ex-fiance Matt Midland for cheating on her and revealing the truth the night before their wedding, which led her to bolt the next day at the altar. It’s been two difficult years, but she’s finally come to terms with everything that happened and the abrupt end to their ten year relationship. When she finds out Matt is having surgery, she rushes to the hospital – only to be told, by his younger brother, Kyle, that Matt has died. When Meg and Kyle encounter each other again at a park the next day, the friendship that had been brought to a standstill when Meg left Matt is rekindled. Unbeknownst to Meg, Kyle has been in love with her since they first met, but kept his feelings closely hidden, even going so far as to move away when Matt and Meg got engaged. Meg and Kyle’s relationship gets even more complicated when an aphrodisiac cookbook Meg had self-published with photos Matt had (reluctantly) taken becomes part of an estate war between her and the Midland family. Shared grief and lust characterize the friendship Meg and Kyle have now, leading to a heated affair between them. Can the ashes of one relationship lead to the forging of a new one?
We might as well talk about the elephant in the room; Matt, or more appropriately, the memory of Matt. He’s the third in this odd love triangle, and his presence pervades the story from start to finish. We learn that Matt always had a competitive nature. His relationship with his brother was part affection, and part – the largest part – sibling rivalry. He was reluctant to marry Meg, and in fact it seems as though their marriage would have likely failed soon after the wedding anyway, as Matt didn’t appreciate Meg at all. He really does come across as a jerk. But at the same time he loved his family, and he was deeply affected by the breakup with Meg, going into a deep depression that he had only recently come out of. He’s constantly brought up in conversation, in the ‘we can’t have a relationship because of Matt’ discussions between Meg and Kyle, and in just about every other situation they encounter. Meg was finally over Matt and ready to move on, yet now she seems stuck reliving the good and bad parts of their relationship while dealing with Matt’s memorial, and the overnight success of her cookbook. For a dead guy, he sure gets a lot of page time.
Meg’s reaction to the news of Matt’s infidelity was understandable, if in hindsight poorly managed. Dropping him at the altar with an “I can’t” instead of an “I do” made for an awkward mess. Meg believes that because she called things off she’s responsible for paying off all the wedding bills, and she’s almost finished. I disagree with this. Matt’s the one who cheated, yet Meg has to deal with the fallout. I guess because she planned it all, she feels she needs to deal with it all after the fact too, but in her shoes I would have made sure Matt paid his fair share. I do think that the plot involving her aphrodisiac cookbook and how it becomes an overnight bestseller is an interesting and enjoyable part of the story, even if it does cause her more grief when Matt’s mother decides to sue for the proceeds to go to Matt’s estate since he was involved in the photography for it. Once again, Matt is front and center getting all the attention, despite being dead. In contrast to Meg’s relationship with Matt, her friendship and attraction to Kyle are built on much more solid ground. They have artistic interests in common and appreciate each other’s talents. The sexual attraction between them makes for some steamy scenes in which they forget about all the hoopla surrounding them and can just be themselves. These scenes feel very realistic, down to the post coitus guilt which gradually gives way to much deeper affection.
I respect Kyle for keeping his feelings about Meg under wraps during her relationship with Matt, but otherwise my reactions to him are mixed. He never approached Meg or intimated to her that he was interested in anything more than friendship during that time, but now that he is free to pursue her, it comes with (of course) a heavy dose of guilt because of his brother’s death. Not that he couldn’t have sought her out before, but with the end of Matt and Meg’s relationship his family had cut off all ties, and so had Kyle, out of loyalty to his brother. It’s clear that he cares deeply for Meg, but his involvement in the family lawsuit against her because of the cookbook makes some of his actions (and reactions) while understandable, still somewhat offensive. Loyalty to his mother and his dead brother or loyalty to the woman he loves – sometimes he chooses one side and sometimes the other. There are some later story revelations that made me think Meg might be better off just cutting ties completely with this family – which isn’t exactly the way you want a romantic relationship to go. The ending feels rushed, mostly because Matt just won’t go away. Kyle and Meg never really get a chance to prove that they can be happy together; I needed more time to be convinced that they can overcome all these obstacles, without Matt being part of the picture.
The romantic comedy part is made up of scenes showing some of the natural awkwardness found in any relationship with some silly and genuinely funny banter and internal dialogue. I like the author’s writing style, and it’s what keeps me coming back to her books again and again. I like Meg but I’m on the fence about Kyle. Yes, the couple gets their happy ending, but it’s a hard slog through grief and guilt and anger and betrayal. If you’re already a fan of Tawna Fenske, then you’ll likely pick this up anyway and it certainly has its moments. If she’s a new-to-you author, I’d recommend trying Making Waves or Let It Breathe first, both of which are on my favourites list. Then consider giving Now that It’s You a try.