This is not a romance. This is a book about one town’s efforts to keep an alcoholic sober, and the people those efforts drag in its wake, including Wild Love’s hero and heroine. If you’re interested in this book because ‘wild love’ sounds sexy, let me tell you – ‘wild’ in this book just means weird and crazy.
Sydney Walsh, like many a romance heroine before her, has been cheated on. A former lawyer whose insecurities and panic attacks stopped her from working in such a dog-eat-dog field, she’s been living the New York City Trophy Wife Life – except her ritzy boyfriend never put a ring on it. Now jobless and boyfriend-less, Sydney has fled to Pine Ridge in upstate New York, where her sweet but not especially prudent mother spends her time bonking the local liquor store owner while her bookstore, the Loving Page, languishes from lack of love by management or customers. On her first night, Sydney meets Sam Kirkland, the town’s mechanic. She’s immediately in lust with him and his “sinewy, tanned forearms that belonged in Dodge truck commercials”. He likes her too, but he already has a woman in his life: his alcoholic ex-girlfriend, Liv, and her young son. Will Liv be able to stay sober when surrounded by loving support – and if she discovers Sam, the man she cheated on but who cares for her anyway, dating Sydney? This is the kind of question Wild Love occupies itself with.
Pine Ridge is the weirdest romance novel town I’ve ever ‘been’ to. The book and the townsfolk, especially Sam, are obsessed with alcohol – who’s drinking, who’s drunk, who shouldn’t be drinking, who might be drinking. What’s especially strange is this isn’t a teetotaler town: everybody in it can knock ‘em back, but they’re all on fixated on Liv. In addition to the fact that they all seem like they carry a breathalyzer on their key rings, they have no qualms about involving themselves in the life choices of other grown adults about who they sleep with, what they drink, and how they parent.
Sam is Pine Ridge’s Enabler-in-Chief. Despite the fact that Liv cheated on him, he feels compelled to help her and her child because she assisted him when his mother was dying. He admits that “I’m sure a good therapist would have a lot to say about how my drunk dad factors into all this” and that “it’s me pathetically trying to fix some kid’s life because nobody could fix mine”. Sydney gets as wrapped up in the drama as the rest of them, thinking of herself as “the other woman” in the bizarre triangle of her, Sam, and Liv. Sydney’s not just a sympathetic character but a tragic one. She’s an open wound of a person – she’s suffered from crippling anxiety, her mother’s unreliable, her father’s out of the picture, her romantic partner has betrayed her, and she has an uneasy relationship with sex. Much fuss is made in the book about how Sam “deserves more” than he’s gotten, but Sydney is the real person who obviously needs so much more TLC than she ever gets.
The writing is much like a sandwich with no lettuce, tomato, or onion: not anything remarkable, but up to the task. It’s a well-paced book and the chapters advance quickly from one WTF moment to the next. But what about the sex you say. It’s there, about sixty percent of the way through the book, and it’s legitimately sexy, though there’s nothing wild/creative enough about it to merit anything other than a warm rating.
I honestly never thought I’d read a romance where romantic interludes are interspersed with scenes of alcoholics vomiting in public into coats and on themselves. Everyone in the town might be physically hungover, but I’m emotionally hungover from this mess. Consider me Gandalf telling you to fly in the face of danger and run from Wild Love.
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