Tap: A Love Story
Although Cade McNaughton, the hero of Tracy Ewers’ Tap, is thirty-two rather than eighteen, this book is very much his coming-of-age story. Cade realizes he is no longer satisfied by his free-wheeling lifestyle and sets out to find a woman and settle down. Unfortunately, the development of that relationship feels a little abrupt and stilted.
As the story opens, Cade is tending bar at the Tap House, part of the Foghorn Brewery, the business he co-owns with his brothers. The crowd is livelier than usual for a Thursday night, and includes lots of women sending come-hither looks Cade’s way. Although he gets his fair share of attention, Cade is puzzled by this level of interest – until someone shows him a picture of himself semi-naked in bed, which has been posted online with a tag to Foghorn. Extremely embarrassed, Cade’s humiliation only gets worse when his brother arrives to berate him for being irresponsible with their business. Never mind that the photo was posted without his approval by an ex-girlfriend Cade has had no contact with for a while.
Cade is frustrated with the reactions of others. His family act almost as if Cade posted the picture himself, chastising him for irresponsible choices instead of acknowledging him as a professional who would never have tied such an image to their business. And all the women coming into the bar just think of it as funny or hot, rather than a violation of Cade’s privacy. Sistine Branch, a casual friend of his, is the only person to see immediately that Cade didn’t ask for this and is upset by the attention. They’ve been meeting regularly for the past few months for him to teach her to play backgammon, but they’ve never really strayed into deep personal conversation territory. Cade is surprised to hear his feelings echoed by Sistine the first time they see each other after the incident. It just so happens, though, that Sistine is going through some troubles running her knitting shop, and it’s her thoughts on that which put her on the same wavelength as Cade.
Just as Cade is realizing that his family sees him as immature, he’s also watching his brothers settle in to adult family life, with his older brother Patrick having a baby, and his younger brother West announcing his wife’s pregnancy. A switch seems to flip in Cade’s brain, and he abruptly decides he’s ready to have a wife and kids himself, not wanting to be left behind. A quick second’s thought suggests Sistine as his best potential partner, so Cade sets out to pursue her.
Does that sound a little emotionless? It is. Cade and Sistine do have a bit of a pull together, but it seemed mostly as though they got together simply because of convenience and compatibility. They have been platonic friends for months before the book starts, and it’s only after Cade’s epiphany that he notices Sistine as a woman. I could understand that if Cade had been asexual and interested only in platonic relationships, but he’s had enough history of smexy times that I would’ve expected him to have noticed the knitting lady ‘that way’ if he were genuinely interested in her. Another odd factor is that once they start dating, Cade has trouble understanding it’s impossible for Sistine to be perfect. He has to be coached by family members on the reality of partners making mistakes, which I would expect a mature, experienced thirty-two-year-old to understand.
Before you pick up this novel, it should be noted that it builds off other connected books. Each novel stands alone, so I felt comfortable jumping into this without reading the others. For the most part it was no problem, and easy to understand how the various characters fit together – but I do admit to wondering if I would have better enjoyed Cade’s character development had I watched him through previous installments.
I also had some trouble with Sistine. Her business is in some financial trouble at the start of the book, and in a bid to be independent, she makes a sort of deal with the devil to get the money she needs. This hangs over her head for the rest of the story, and even leads to her breaking up with Cade out of guilt. This sort of drama is a pet peeve of mine, and it was made worse by the fact that the author keeps the details of Sistine’s deal vague and secretive. As a result of the secrecy I was more confused than empathetic in regards to her feelings of guilt, and when everything was finally revealed in the end, I didn’t think it needed to be so secretive and soul-crushing at all. Sistine is a good heroine; she’s independent, insightful, and has good relationships with her friends, but this drama overshadowed the aspects of her character I liked.
There were enough good bones here that I may read Ms. Ewens’ work again. If reading about small towns and breweries is up your alley, you might want to take a chance on her, too. It’s just that unfortunately, while I liked the premise of Tap, the hard time I had connecting with the characters kept it from being an enjoyable read.