Naomi Westfield is going to marry Nicholas Rose in three months even though their relationship is dead in the water. After a miserable game night with her friends, Naomi realizes Nicholas’s plan: he’ll force her to break up with him, thereby not only winning everyone’s sympathy but also giving him grounds to ask the broke, minimum-wage Naomi to pay back the exorbitant amounts his mother Deborah has insisted they spend on the wedding. Well, two can play that game. Naomi has shrouded herself in a gray fog to avoid conflict - now she’ll embrace conflict and drive Nicholas so crazy he will break up with her first. The only problem? Maybe Nicholas isn’t trying to drive her away. Maybe Nicholas has been living in a fog, too, and once Naomi prods him out of it, could it be that the people they are underneath are a much better match than the people they were pretending to be?
Look. I can guess how you feel after you read that. A book with this premise could be a nauseating parade of immaturity, and yes, both Naomi and Nicholas start off superficial and lacking in self-awareness (Naomi’s kissy-kissy Instagram façade as her relationship drowns is particularly cringeworthy). But what makes this work is that the author knows they’re awful, and makes Naomi and Nicholas learn that they’ve been awful as well. The ‘make him break it off’ game is the catalyst for this.
For instance, based on Nicholas’s actions, Naomi assumes that he cares more about keeping the peace with his mother Deborah than siding with his future wife. Naomi therefore decides to alienate Nicholas by refusing to kowtow to Mommie Dearest. Except Nicholas wants to break out of his role as Dutiful Doormat, if only he didn’t have to go it alone. Naomi’s new spark gives him fire, too.
This scene also demonstrates how You Deserve Each Other does an excellent job apportioning both blame and growth. Our heroine is not the innocent victim of a workaholic or a misunderstanding, as in many marriage-in-trouble plots. Neither is Nicholas someone who can fix all their problems with a Grand Gesture (in fact, his Gesturing could use a lot of work). Sometimes, the men in first-person heroine narration books are cardboard, but Nicholas has a lot of inner life, with desires and issues of his own.
While yes, there are some funny and petty drive-partner-crazy moments (like Naomi filing down the bottom of one leg of Nicholas’s desk to make it wobble), the author has keen insight into how relationships go wrong. For instance, Naomi imagines a lecture from Nicholas:
“Real Nicholas hasn’t said any of this. But Imaginary Nicholas is an amalgamation of realistic predictions based on callous things he’s said to me in the past, so I easily hear his voice shape those words. It’s not fair to be hurt or angry over something he didn’t say, especially since the words I put into my own head are all true, but knowing that he potentially could say it - and probably will - is enough to make me sink into a dark silence.”
I’ve done this. My partner has done this. And like Naomi, we know we’re not being fair - but we still brace ourselves so hard for the anticipated hit that sometimes we start hitting back first.
Or how about this moment where Naomi makes a maturity breakthrough:
It’s a self-appointed martyr’s answer. It ensures that the issue goes unresolved, and that I suffer all by myself. What do I get out of saying nothing?
But the book is also in places quite funny. Naomi is a delightful first person narrator. The fast-paced high-diction screwball comedy wit of a Nora Ephron is much-attempted but rarely achieved, and I was delighted to thoroughly enjoy the prose of this book. While finding herself in a dry spell with Nicholas and ogling the extremely homely movers, Naomi realizes:
“I’m in a bad way. Boulder-size men with ZZ Top beards and face tattoos. Balding mad scientists. Count Chocula. The silhouette from Mad Men’s credits. If this drought goes on any longer, I’ll be lusting after the featureless figure on the men’s restroom sign.”
My one criticism is that the villains are one-dimensional. Naomi’s coworker Melissa is spiteful. Nicholas’s mom is consistently horrifying, and his dad is a human slug. In a story that gives us two immature, self-centered leads and then walks us through their growth, I can understand not having time to do the villains justice, but I still would have liked to see some nuance there.
I expect that this book will work for some people and not for others, and that’s fine. Honestly, I assumed - based on other books which drive me crazy - that it wouldn’t work for me. I was thrilled to be wrong, and to give You Deserve Each Other my wholehearted recommendation.
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