Cindi Myers used to be a newspaper reporter, and in many ways, that's apparent in Work of Heart (how about that title, amiright?), her latest. For one thing, it's a "reality-based romance," which apparently means that the couple in the story is based on a real-life couple; more importantly, though, she reports it almost as if it's a feature in a daily, in a style more competent than graceful, more about the sequence of events than reflection upon them -- not that you can really expect a lot of profound insight from a romance novel. Then again, what you can expect from a romance novel -- graphic sex -- is conspicuously absent here, too.
In fact, in the chapter I read, there isn't so much as a kiss. It begins with the female lead, Nina, picking up the male lead, Danny, for a camping trip they're about to take in Canada for a week -- the conflict in the chapter, it becomes clear as the chapter goes on, is that Danny has a girlfriend named Renee, and the two of them have just split up -- the night before, in fact. Evidently, Danny and Nina are just friends.
Friends, as you might guess, that are falling in love.
And that love is kind of charmingly chaste. The first half of the chapter stays inside Nina's head, culminating her drawing Danny as he sleeps on a picnic table ("What would happen if she kissed him while he slept?" she wonders), and as the narrative shifts to Danny's thoughts, their want for each other and their simultaneous worrying about the inappropriateness of the timing was relatable at least to me (I've been in similar situations), even if Danny's mental rehash of his breakup did kind of remind me of Ronnie and Sammy from The Jersey Shore. Really, Danny just reminded me of Ronnie the whole time, but that probably has something to do with the beefcake on the cover, plus the fact that I'd been photoshopping Ronnie's head onto a comet earlier that day. So maybe that's just me.
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It's impossible to really dislike the story or these characters -- in fact, I kind of liked them -- but I didn't really care about them either. And as they bop along in the car, feeling each other out and chatting about their lives, it's hard to get invested in the emotions beneath a dialog that's hard to describe as anything but bland:
Then tell me what's wrong, she thought. But before she could say this, he said, "Tell me about a camping trip you took in the mountains."
It wasn't the conversation she wanted to have, but it would do for now -- anything was better than his silence. She searched for an appropriate anecdote. "One of my favorite trips was in Rocky Mountain National Park with my mother and stepfather when I was twelve. My stepfather was a climatologist but he knew a lot about blants and birds and trees and he would tell me the names of flowers or what parts of plants I could eat if I was ever lost in the woods."
"And you liked that?"
"I think it was the lost in the woods part I liked most," she said. "Not that I wanted to be lost, but the thought that I could survive by my wits pleased me. I like to imagine my rescuers, being amazed that I was so competent and courageous."
It's often been noted that dates are kind of like job interviews, and that seems a particularly apt simile -- the point of the random questions of job interviews is ostensibly to get a sense of the character of the applicant, of that je ne sais quoi beyond the facts of the resume, and that seems to be what the book is trying to do here -- to expose an aspect of what makes Nina tick through the story she's telling. And it ultimately succeeds in giving us a glimpse into Nina's character about as much as a job interview does an applicant, which is to say not much.
But reporting is far more about action than character, and maybe the main problem here is that there's just not enough action to sustain it; the process of falling in love, thrilling as it may be to the people involved in it, is seldom all that interesting to anyone else.