The Love Coupon
Ainslie Paton’s The Love Experiment was last year’s surprise hit. Reading the high praise for it, I was looking forward to reading The Love Coupon. However, for multiple reasons, large and small, I have to say that this book was a disappointment.
The hyperbolic writing style, with multiple metaphors competing for the reader’s attention, takes some getting used to:
If you plugged an amusement park into Flick Dalgetty, you could light up a roller coaster and make cotton candy for days. […] There wasn’t any way electronic-shockagram, disco-light-strobe, tip-you-upside-down-and-shake-you-while-laughing-like-a-horror-show Flick Dalgetty could solve any problem Tom was likely to have.
But once you get accustomed to the writer’s voice, you can start appreciating the characters, the scenery, and the acerbic writing.
One evening, Tom O’Connell and Flick Dalgetty meet at a ‘hacks-and-flacks’ cocktail mixer for advertisers, journalists, marketing folks, and lobbyists. He’s there to connect with a high-flying journalist; she’s there to find a temporary roommate. Flick and Tom are polar opposites. She’s a lobbyist; he’s in marketing. She’s a firebrand go-getter; he’s a quiet, dedicated, corporate ladder-climber. She’s messy and highly-strung; he’s on the straight and narrow.
Tom owns a swanky condo in an upscale part of the big city – it’s not clear which one – in which they both live. Flick has given up her current job in order to move to Washington D.C. for the job of her dreams, so she needs temporary accommodation before she moves. Tom refuses to have Flick live with him as his housemate. Living with Flick Dalgetty would be like being kidnapped and trapped inside a Gravitron. But Flick convinces Tom out of his convictions and moves in. Needless to say, that feeling of living in a Gravitron returns to Tom again and again throughout the story.
Tom was raised by a tight-fisted, anally-retentive father who did not allow him to be even the slightest bit messy. He lived in a hyper-controlled home, which he survived by doing what was expected of him, focusing on his future, and carefully mapping out his way of getting there.
Flick was raised by a father who stole cars and abused her mother. Her friends and sisters were teen mothers and her brothers, hoodlums. She escaped this soul-crushing life by running away at fifteen to live with a man twice her age who provided her with stability, security, and the means to finish her school and go to a decent college. Her eyes are always on the future she wants and plotting her way there.
In that Flick and Tom are alike. They are ambitious and want the top jobs in their careers, but their methods of obtaining their heart’s desire couldn’t be more different.
After Flick moves in with Tom, they’re both wary of each other. Flick tries to adhere to Tom’s many rules, but gradually, her uninhibited nature asserts itself and she starts leaving her stuff around the house and driving Tom up the wall. They share two memorable meals – Tom enjoys cooking and he makes the kind of comfort food that sticks to the ribs. The more they see of each other, the stronger the attraction between them.
The first time they succumb to that attraction has Tom satisfying Flick while refusing to be satisfied himself. Flick feels that Tom is too uptight, too set in his ways, and she wants him to loosen up, to give up some of the tight control he maintains. So Flick gives Tom thirty coupons to no-strings-attached activities, such as a bubble bath, binge-watching a show of his choice, a massage, buying her lingerie, a Kama Sutra position of his choice (sigh – the Kama Sutra is not a sex manual), etc. that will allow him to simply enjoy life and enjoy being with her, and thus encourage him to let down his guard. This takes their casual fling into the realm of a serious relationship that neither is prepared for, nor willing to risk their independence for. And yet, they’re hooked beyond wisdom.
This book has the narrative threads to make it a compelling story of how both characters rise above their circumstances to become individuals they’re proud of and come together into a strong relationship with each other. However, the portrayal of the characters, especially Flick, made for a story that was a turn-off on many levels.
Early on in the story, Flick gets the feeling that Tom is as attracted to her as she is to him, so she wants them to kiss. But he says no. Repeatedly. While he’s attracted to her, he does not want to have sex with her and he refuses. Repeatedly. Yet, she insists and insists till he gives in, kisses her and allows himself to be kissed by her. They dry hump. Then he asks her how he can get her off. She tells him. He does so. Then he gets up and walks away unfulfilled but refusing to take his clothes off and have sex with her. His “no” really was “no,” and it certainly felt like he had to give her that orgasm because she wrested it from him. But he’s finally able to refuse her demand that they take their clothes off and have round two, and this time he manages to hold her off. She goes away annoyed and frustrated with him. The next day morning, while Tom has gone off hiking, in her thoughts we see this:
The apartment was empty in the morning and she looked at it for the first time and didn’t see it as the elegant designer space of her first impression. It was beige and bland, too conservative to have a personality. Like its owner. […] She hoped Tom hiked a hole in his feet.
Tom returns home injured, and then he apologizes to her while castigating himself, and she rips up at him.
“I’m a total shit for how I reacted last night.”
“Before or after you let me rub one out on you and made me feel like a greedy whore?”
This is classic Old Skool Romance forced seduction AKA rape with a role reversal, where the heroine is the aggressor. While I am thankful that heroines these days are empowered and own their sexuality, sexual progressiveness does not have to tip over into predatory behavior.
She’d gone from feeling sexy to feeling like a predator.
This is not a positive emancipated trait for any person to have.
And there’s a pattern. In the opening pages of the book, when Tom first meets Flick, he repeatedly refuses to have her stay with him. He is not attracted to her; in fact, he despises what he sees as her hyperactive, destructive presence. He consistently and in various ways says “no” to her wanting to rent his spare bedroom. And yet, she pushes and pushes and gets her way.
The third time they have sex, she compels and propels him out of his comfort zone into the kind of sex she’s determined will set him free from his narrow outlook on life. If she wanted a reaction she’d have to push him harder. And he protests again and again against the intimacy, but she’s insistent, and when they’re done and it’s amazing, she’s triumphant and he’s grateful. But he hadn’t wanted to do it at the outset and had said so – and she had paid no heed to him.
Flick always getting her way is so important to her that Tom’s feelings and wishes don’t seem to matter much. This is not a HEA I can get behind. Thus, despite the occasional sharp humor and deft turns of phrase that make for enjoyable reading, the heroine’s treatment of the hero pretty much ruined the book for me. The author goes to great lengths to make the reader understand how Flick’s background makes her into a hard, bright diamond with a “take no prisoners” attitude, but her persistence and coercion are unacceptable. There is no way she could be redeemed after that, despite the author trying successfully throughout the book to show Flick’s growth into a person of maturity and compassion and Tom’s growth into a person of confidence and surety with the ability to enjoy life as it is. Every reader has their deal-breaker, and I simply cannot recommend this story.