One Summer in Paris
by Sarah Morgan
April 9, 2019 · HQN Books
This guest review is from Sam, who is a longtime romance and SBTB reader.
I’ve read so many of Sarah Morgan’s books, all the way back to when she wrote Harlequin Presents. I don’t like billionaires or captains of industry, but if Morgan wrote them, I was all in. I liked the Harlequins and I liked the longer books she wrote, too.
Unfortunately for me, Morgan is now writing women’s fiction. And women’s fiction isn’t my genre, despite the similarities to romance. But I wanted to try because it’s a Sarah Morgan book. So I read this in an afternoon. I ended up skimming the last third of it because the characters were not that exciting, and because I wanted to know what happened in the end. But when I got there, I was mad about it. The ending requires me to forgive characters I have no interest in forgiving, and glosses over events that I think are too traumatic and too painful.
Grace is a woman in her 40s in Connecticut who is a careful planner and organizer of her day and her life, with to-do lists and advanced planning. One example: she buys and wraps up a present for her husband’s boss so he doesn’t have to shop for it or deal with it, and often pre-buys her own gifts from said husband, too. Several times she alludes to a chaotic or difficult childhood, but the particulars aren’t revealed until about two thirds into the book. Her childhood led to her organizational devotion.
On her 25th wedding anniversary, she plans a dinner surprise for her husband: she’s arranged a month off for him, and they’re going to Paris for that month. He knew nothing of this plan, and instead tells her – at the anniversary dinner – that he’s been having an affair with their former babysitter and wants out of their marriage. Why was he having an affair? Because Grace doesn’t need him. Because she’s so organized.
Grace is understandably devastated, and faces a lot of humiliation in her small town where everyone knows her business. She decides to take the trip to Paris on her own – after her husband offers to pay her for the tickets and reservations so he can take his girlfriend to Paris instead. He is terrible.
Meanwhile, Audrey, the other main character, is in London about to graduate. Her home life is also terrible. Her mother is an alcoholic who cycles between smothering affection and abuse towards Audrey. When her mother gets married, she feels like she is free, so Audrey heads to Paris to escape her life in London, which she hates.
When Grace arrives in Paris, she’s mugged, and Audrey tackles the mugger and brings back Grace’s purse. After that, they connect in starts and stops, Grace trying to fix some things for Audrey, and Audrey being prickly and pushing Grace away because she’s used to being alone and doesn’t trust anyone who is kind.
Everything in this story falls easily into place for both of them. Audrey lied about her ability to speak French when she got a job at a bookstore that comes with an apartment. She’s fired, but Grace speaks French and volunteers to work in the store with Audrey. Audrey gets her job back. Grace volunteers to work there because she doesn’t have anything else to do. Grace loves the idea of working/volunteering in a bookstore, and is trying to get away from being the really organized, careful person she was. That’s who her husband left, and she’s convincing herself that she’s partially responsible for his decisions.
She’s not, and her story makes me so mad. Instead of talking about his problems, her husband cheats. Instead of explaining to Grace that he doesn’t like some of the things she does to manage his life for him, he keeps quiet and bangs the babysitter, who is in her 20s and looks up to him (eyyew). Instead of seeking counseling, he tells her on their anniversary in a restaurant full of people that he wants to leave her. Instead of owning how awful he is, he tries to make Grace see that it’s partially her fault that he was unhappy. He’s the “both sides” of cheating husbands. And then he has to try to win her back. I really, really hated him.
I was also frustrated by the lack of counseling or mental health resources in this story. The characters are dealing with really difficult issues and a lot of traumatic things: alcoholism, assault, abuse, deceit, betrayal, addiction, death, loss, and that’s just off the top of my head. But Grace and Audrey have to fix themselves.
And in order for the story to reach what seems like a happy ending, they have to forgive characters who make what I think is a very small amount of effort to fix themselves. Grace and Audrey have to retcon their own relationships for the ending to happen, and it was too impossible and too unsatisfying.
In order to accept the ending, I have to revise my opinion of those characters as well and I wasn’t willing to do that. The people who wronged Grace and Audrey don’t do enough to demonstrate that they’ve changed. They don’t fully own up what they did and how they harmed Grace and Audrey. But the message of the book is, because they really do love Grace and Audrey, they should be forgiven.
And Grace and Audrey receive zero counseling or help with the series of extreme traumas in their lives. That part was disappointing, too, because their friendship is the best part of the novel. They inspire one another and learn from each other. They confide in each other. But they work things out by themselves. The ending requires so much from them, so much compromise, that I was frustrated and disappointed by it, and wouldn’t call it “happy.”