The Way He Makes Me Feel
Duncan Hillston is a player. He’s the kind of guy who bags women and then brags about his conquests to his buddies, embroidering the details with each telling. He rationalizes his behavior by telling himself that he brings a little light to his friends’ lives – they get to live vicariously through him. But his friends don’t see it that way, and one night they call him on it. They bet him that he can’t charm the woman of their choice into falling in love with him within two weeks’ time. If he can produce a starry-eyed love slave by the Westfield Neighborhood block party, then he gets a European vacation. If not, he has to admit to all the guys at the party that his reputation is pure fiction and that all the stories he’s told were crap. Unwilling to lose face, Duncan agrees. And then he sees the woman they’ve chosen for him.
Claire Scott was the child prodigy at Duncan’s high school. She was a brainy know-it-all with out-of-control braids once called her “Medusa.” Younger than everyone else, Claire had a hard time fitting in. But that doesn’t mean that she was different from the other girls in every way – like almost everyone else, she had a mean crush on Duncan Hillston. So when he approaches her to ask her out, she is floored and can’t believe it. But her rational brain wins out. She doesn’t have time for love – she’s working on a cure for ovarian cancer and her project is on the cusp of preclinical trials. Also, she knows men don’t dig smart chicks, and tells Duncan right away that she’s too intelligent for him. It would never work. Duncan remains undeterred, and Claire finds herself softening toward him. And against his will and his rakish ways, Duncan also finds himself in a new emotional state. Could it be love?
The Way He Makes Me Feel is essentially a modern taming-the-rake story. In order to make this kind of story work the author must approach it in either one of two ways. Either the rake is only kind of rakish, more charming than promiscuous, really (and therefore not in desperate need of a full personality makeover), or the rake really is the Duke of Slut and must therefore be put through the ringer over and over until he begs for mercy. Until he grovels for mercy. In the second case the author must also show what exactly it is about the heroine that makes her the perfect tool of his downfall. Unfortunately, Sneed’s story qualifies as neither of the above scenarios. Duncan really does have a history of using women for sex, but falls for Claire almost immediately and begins acting out of character within just a few dates. He becomes jealous, possessive, protective, and obsessed. He also starts daydreaming about living the settled down life right away. This is a fantasy for many romance readers, I know, but here it seems inexplicable.
Duncan is good looking, smooth, and relatively successful in his career as an electrician. Claire, on the other hand, is a brainy nerd with no experience with men. She dresses conservatively and unimaginatively, and is little plump. She is also successful in her career but that success hasn’t bolstered her confidence in social settings. It’s a little hard to see what a shallow jerk like Duncan sees in her. She’s clearly too good for him, but if she weren’t the heroine of this novel, he would never realize that.
However, no matter how genuinely nice she seems, Claire’s brilliance felt rather fake. She repeatedly starts her sentences with bits like, “Studies show…” and she has all the nerdy trappings (state-of-the-art lab, no social life), but she doesn’t seem any more gifted or intellectual than most other romance heroines, and the difference between her intelligence and Duncan’s, while initially mentioned, never causes any sort of problem between them.
The book has a lot of romance novel staples: the married-with-adorable-children interfering siblings, the constant mental lusting, the unnecessary romantic suspense sub-plot, the hap-hap-happy epilogue. Sneed traverses no new romance novel territory with this book.
The Way He Makes Me Feel reads like a rehash of already overused romance novel ingredients. If the plot line sounds interesting to you, read Jennifer Crusie’s Bet Me instead.