Relative Disappointment

Lex and Lu - J. Santiago

He’d met the love of his life at age eight.

This will make very little sense, I promise.

I really, REALLY want to give this a three. Because there's a lot to appreciate about a book serving a predictable, schmaltzy storyline (which I'm a sucker for) with the visible effort to avoid the go-to pitfalls of this cliche-infested genre. The love triangle, the slut shaming, the insta-love were all thankfully missing from this novel.

But I just can't. 

At it’s core Lex and Lu had the usual suspects and familiar ingredients of a Marchetta contemporary: two families intertwined, childhood friends to lovers to distant strangers, the second chances they are given, the devastating secret, the meddling parents, the secondary love story between the heroine’s sister, Willa and the hero’s brother, Pete. Hell, somebody even dies. 

Except everyone’s an asshole to Lex and he does a very good job at being an asshole back.

And everyone’s telling me Lu’s this intellectual brainiac because she has a doctorate on something something psychology and uses big words like ‘antiquated’ in regular conversations.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

For the first time in eight years, Lex and Lu are seeing each other again thru the death of his father. He is now a renowned football player in a premiere English league and she is on her way to getting her doctorate on psychology. Things seems to have turned for the best for both of them except for the secret everyone has kept from Lex that now needs to be revealed: Lu never had that abortion eight years ago and they now have an eight-year old daughter

This was divided into two parts with the first half leading to Lu’s confession to Lex and the second half dealing with the repercussions of that reveal. My earliest concern was that the big secret would be drawn out unnecessarily but my biggest issue by the end of the first half was that Santiago chose not to divulge the specifics of what actually happened eight years ago. 

Maybe I was just too dense or maybe I was a little distracted with the sudden and awkward erotic, rapey turn this took midway through (because WTF Church Sex After a Funeral), but I ended up getting exponentially confused over the characters’ logic and motivations as I forged on. I kept wondering if this person did this to you, why are you drinking wine with her now? Shouldn’t there be some slapping going on? Maybe some house burning or car bombs getting set up? Perhaps this is the perfect testament to Santiago curbing my predictable expectations but in doing so I felt a little alienated from her protagonists in more than half of the novel. 

The second half brought all the missing clarity in the first, and I kept feeling this was the story Santiago really intended to tell but couldn’t quite make a compact preamble to get me there. I liked the portrayal of Lex and Lu dealing with the repercussions their choices brought them, even if the circumstances felt forced and absurd with Lex forcing Lu and their daughter, Nina to uproot their lives to move to England so he could spend time with his daughter. Ridiculous that Lu agreed to this but I did love the moments of struggle and uncertainty between Lex, Lu and Nina in being a family. I thought it was the single most realistic aspect in a book that doesn’t seem to acknowledge the existence of jet lag. That and Willa.

”Lu, I can tell you what to do, I can tell you what not to do. I can keep trying to control the universe. Unfortunately, I keep getting outmanoeuvred. I tell you not to have sex with him. You do it anyway. I tell you not to go to England. You do it anyway. You were drunk texting him the other night. What the fuck was that about? I mean, shit, Lu.”

Her and Pete’s subplot may have come across distracting and pointless but I cannot deny my appreciation of her moments of lucidity. There were snatches of flashbacks that felt too few and thin on the emotional weight and made the story seem more desperate for some angst. Again, perhaps this was something that was intended to set this book apart from the rest but in the end, made the story anaemic and wanting.

I had a great difficulty with sympathising with Lu but eventually got what her character was trying to cut across around the end. Throughout the book she seems to be this pushover character who constantly acquiesces to Lex’s outrageous demands as he lashes out in his anger. It’s such a shame because I feel she’d be remembered more as an intellectual, progressive woman made spineless by her guilt and remorse when I think she was intended to portray the unfair double standards educated women like her have to live up to under modern, feminist scrutiny.

I liked the moral complexity brought by both Lex and Lu's parents in the story. 

Lex, on the other hand, was just a rapey little gonad all throughout.

I wish I could be a bit more decisive in where I stand with this book, on whether I can recommend this or not. Personally, I thought it had some good ideas and it took some risks in the way it delivered an overused, yet well-loved Hallmarky story. But I feel those very bright moments factored greatly on my disenchantment over Lex and Lu. Maybe that has a lot to do with how I felt in the end. Maybe it's the disappointment over the story that this could have been but never came to be. Maybe it’s about the roads this could have taken, the opportunities this missed and the mistranslation of the emotions it meant to elicit.

Or maybe it really was just Marchetta’s fault.