The American Roommate Experiment
Imagine if you were alone in your best friend’s NYC apartment and you heard someone trying to come in through the locked door. You aren’t expecting anyone, so you fear this may be an intruder up to no good. What would you do? I would imagine that, like me, your first instinct would be to grab your phone and key up 9-1-1. Your emotions would certainly contain fear and outrage and some measure of hostility. And when you learn that instead of an intruder, the person breaking in is, in fact, your best friend’s relative with a legitimate reason to be there, you’d apologize for the mistake, but you’d hardly beat yourself up for assuming the worst.
And yet this is exactly our introduction to Rosie Graham, who has escaped to her honeymooning best friend Lina’s empty studio apartment after her own apartment suffers a ceiling cave-in. When Lucas, Lina’s sexy Spanish cousin, shows up with his own key, Rosie loses the ability to act like a rational human being. She falls all over herself in apology for making a mistake anyone would in such a situation, as if she were the biggest buffoon on the planet. Even more confusing is why she feels the need to lie about her reason for being there when Lucas sees all of her belongings and the perishable food items she’s trying to salvage. Lina is her best friend, she has a spare key, and her apartment is uninhabitable. Of course she would go there. Yet Rosie feels shame and guilt and the need to hide her situation from a guy she’s never met. Why?
It may be because Rosie has been stalking Lucas via Instagram for months and has a massive crush on him. (Okay for teen girls and their heartthrobs but kind of creepy for an adult woman.) When she finally encounters the guy in person, she becomes the equivalent of a thirteen year old boy trying to ask the prom queen for a date. She blurts and verbally stumbles in ways that I imagine are meant to make her adorable and relatable, but since she mentally bashes herself for her foot-in-mouth blunders, proves that she’s too self aware to be so silly.
Anyway, after some ‘No, you take it’ back and forth-ing between Lucas and Rosie over who should remain in the studio, they decide to share it. She’ll sleep in the bed, he’ll sleep on the sofa. They certainly won’t develop any kind of relationship beyond friendship because he’s heading back to Spain in six weeks and she’s… well, she’s got no real reason but whatever.
Lucas soon demonstrates that the positive traits he’s cultivated via Instagram are a mere hint of his true perfection. He’s charming. He’s a great cook. He loves dogs. He’s gorgeous and looks stunning without a shirt. And he proves to be a true friend when he offers to take Rosie on some ‘experimental dates’ to help jump start her writing muse. You see, despite her successful career as an engineer, Rosie really wants to be a romance writer. Her first book was so well received that she gained a publishing contract, inspiring her to quit her job so that she can write full time. Except she’s got a terrible case of Imposter Syndrome and hasn’t managed to write a word, even with a deadline looming. She’s hoping that going on some fake dates with Lucas will remind her of what romance and falling in love is all about, and this will kick her muse in the butt.
Lucas and Rosie date. They flirt. They each deal with some personal demons – him an injury that ended his pro-surfing career, her the mysterious behaviour of her little brother who seems to have gotten himself into some kind of trouble. Through it all, they despair that despite their obvious feelings for each other, they have no future together once their shared apartment situation comes to an end.
As characters, Rosie and Lucas are fairly traditional contemporary love interests. When we are in Rosie’s head, she’s ditzy and insecure. But when we are in Lucas’s head, she comes across much more appealing and pulled together. Conversely, Lucas presents himself as unworthy and broken, yet Rosie sees him as suave and worldly. I could never decide if this was some clever writing trick or just a case of inconsistent characterization.
My biggest issue with The American Roommate Experiment is that there is absolutely no reason that Rosie and Lucas can’t be together as a couple. I never understood why their dates had to be experimental instead of real. They’re openly attracted to each other. Lucas’s imminent return to Spain would prove no more than a hiccup if they planned a future together. Rosie’s mental angst about them being ‘just friends’ and their dates being ‘just experiments’ make her look a bit dimwitted given how openly Lucas expresses his attraction and more-than-friendly affection for her. Even worse, possibly, is Lucas’ conviction that he is damaged goods with no prospects or nothing to offer her, especially since his career-ending injury was trotted out only when this particular plot point was needed. Too, if you missed the multitude of anvils about Lucas being a great cook and the convenient fact that their neighbor’s daughter is the executive chef at the trendiest restaurant in the city, then you must have read a different book. Some stuff is mentioned about Rosie’s bad dating history and Lucas’ determination not to date. It seemed as if Armas couldn’t come up with a good conflict to keep these two apart, so she just threw a bunch of stuff out there to see what the cat would lick up.
This is sold as a slow burn romance, with the strangers-to-friends-to-lovers trajectory. However, given Rosie’s Instagram-inspired crush and lack of conflict between the two, I never got the sensation of slow anything. Rosie and Lucas are instant friends, their attraction is open and obvious, and there is never any doubt as to where they will end up. Any slowness in the development of their relationship is the result of manufactured drama or interrupted intimacy.
The American Roommate Experiment is a stand-alone sequel to The Spanish Love Deception. I suppose if you loved Armas’ first book, you will enjoy this one as well. I found it to be a case of the whole being greater than the sum of its parts. Several times I groaned in exasperation, but I felt compelled to keep reading so clearly something worked. But if you want a really good ‘forced to share an apartment’ love story, check out Neil Simon’s 1977 movie classic The Goodbye Girl. It’s a bit dated, but dang if it doesn’t hit the enemies-to-friends-to-lovers trope on the head.