tl;dr: it was confusing in some ways and still confusing in many more ways
So Wicked is the third in a series of so-called Bad Behavior novels, although I think “nonsensical behavior” may have been more apt. Marshall and Alexis run into each other at the bar that Marshall is opening, with the financial backing of her ex-husband that she abandoned, along with her infant daughter, 6 years before. Marshall has a visceral reaction to seeing her again, and lets loose in a string of profanities that could turn a gal’s hair white. But sparks fly between them, and leads to something more. So far, interesting premise, right?
Spoilers follow, because I don’t think I can fully explain the bizarre trajectory of this novel otherwise.
The jump from mortal enemies to bed buddies is so rapid that it made my head spin. Essentially, he sees her in a short skirt and all of a sudden, all he can think about it getting into them. But somehow, this blooms into love? I find it so hard to believe that Marshall could be so self-righteously angry with her, for leaving her husband and daughter, and then still be mad at her about it but also in love with her at the same time. They’re supposed to have this weird bantering thing going on, but it mostly appears to be these screaming matches that get doused immediately, going from 0 to 60 back to 0. I didn’t buy their romance. I did buy their visceral hatred of each other.
And of course, near the end, they are found out by the best friend/ex-husband, and that also gets resolved incredibly quickly despite all of the anticipation of the “forbidden” romance. Aaron has completely legitimate reasons to be upset. His best friend didn’t tell him he’d not only rediscovered Alexis, but that he was banging her. He found out by walking in on them canoodling (in the bar he invested in)! Alexis disappeared 6 years before without a trace, and he definitely has a bone to pick with her. But the conflict is over after a few words.
Alexis’ reasons for abandoning her kid and husband are a little weird, too. She has residual guilt over an incident that caused a death in her past, and the way that it’s revealed is so sudden that it carries little weight. She seems to have gained a psychology degree overnight as she comes to terms with this painful past instantly, saying that she can’t run from it anymore. It’s something she kept from her HUSBAND and the father of her daughter for at least 2 years, but it all comes spilling out when she’s triggered by Wizard of Oz, like she’s some kind of sleeper agent of sad. It was too much and too sudden.
Did an editor take a pass through this book? There were so many segments that were straight-up confusing that I have to wonder. The writing is amateur at best, and plainly awful at worst. Here’s a selection of some actual sentences from the book:
His eyes held to mine, and it was almost uncomfortable until it wasn’t.
He was familiar to me in so many ways, but he was someone I didn’t know at all in more ways.
…a little ego stroke was a good way to get through the dry spells without thinking you were a washed-up old man without the ability to land anything that didn’t have four legs.
(FOUR LEGS? What exactly is Marshall hitting on? Most human women I know have 2 legs or fewer.)
He was clearly in pain, but he was also a man. There was no way of telling if the hit in the side [from a BAR FIGHT] didn’t do damage or if it was “male pain”–that common ailment that inflicts itself on the Y chromosome. The female population was unaware if the inability to handle pain was something that men carried with them in their testosterone or if it was safely tucked away in their penis.
After several moments–or maybe it was a hundred, I couldn’t tell–his lips and himself, had pulled back.
I thought I understood where she was going, but I didn’t understand where it went.
Just… what? The whole book is written this way, as if the writer just sat down and wrote the entire thing from beginning to end but never looked back. Aside from some really nonsensical phrasing and weird judgmental asides (such as ‘man pain’ from above), I noticed some flat-out errors and strange choices in tense. (There are a few flashbacks written in present tense. This seemed like a weird choice to me, when the rest of the book is in past tense.)
I also felt like the whole SHOCKING MYSTERY of Alexis’ past was drawn out way too long. Here’s the thing: holding out a BIG SECRET is one thing, but when you have a first person account of the person holding the BIG SECRET, it doesn’t make much sense. In someone’s interior monologue, they aren’t going to think stuff like “ooh, that BIG BAD THING I DID THAT HURT PEOPLE THAT HAS NO NAME.” They are going to name it. And that’s fine! A character’s big bad secret can still be a source of conflict even if the reader knows what it is! The point is that the other characters may not know.
I was interested enough in what was going to happen to the characters to keep reading, even if I didn’t really buy into Marshall and Alexis’ romance. With a great editor, I think this could have been a pretty decent book. There were a lot of funny lines that I enjoyed, and the side characters were a little thinly drawn but lent some good color. I would have changed a lot of things around, made the inciting incident that got the hero and heroine to get kissy a little less contrived, and made the conflict with Aaron actually mean something, and I think a better flow would have improved the book a lot. There’s some good bones in here, they just need to be rearranged.
Wanna read it for yourself? I won’t stop you!
Love bartenders? Why not try Emily Giffin’s Where We Belong? It’s not a romance, per se, but sparks still fly.