Miss Bates loves the 1963 film, Love With the Proper Stranger, Angie Rossini and Rocky Papasano’s one-night-stand story (Wood and McQueen are wonderful). Angie lives with her widowed mother and brothers and is constrained by their control over her life. In an act of rebellion, she sleeps with Rocky and thereafter realizes she’s pregnant. Angie seeks Rocky to ask for help to pay for an abortion and he agrees. They spend several days together making arrangements. Two things happen: the day of, in a place sordid and frightening, Rocky stops Angie from going through with the abortion; and, Angie and Rocky reluctantly grow to know and like one another. There’s no insta-love. Rocky begrudgingly asks her to marry. Angie refuses and, yes, he has a hard time with that. It spurs his interest, however. (Another aspect to the film that is interesting is how Rocky and Angie want to escape the stifling atmosphere of their overly protective but strong-on-the-family-loyalty Italian-American clans.) The film ends with Angie’s “upper hand.” The possibility of an HEA is there, but not the surety. Angie is vindicated. Miss Bates loved Angie: determined to forge a life for herself, uncompromising in her desire for love and independence, resolved to marry on her terms, not her family’s or Rocky’s, or not marry at all. She is fearless and glowingly beautiful mama material, this Macy’s shop-girl barely scraping a living.
Miss Bates suspects that Mira Lyn Kelly aimed for the same effect in Waking Up Pregnant. Unlike the 1963 film, the 2014 novel doesn’t manage this as successfully. Miss Bates enjoyed reading it, thought it well-written, with innocuously sympathetic leads; however, its ethos was conventional and she couldn’t help comparing it, and it coming up short, to a film over 50 years old. It is a novel with a situation similar to that of Sarah Mayberry’s More Than One Night, which is not a Mayberry novel that received the attention it deserved, but Miss Bates liked it very MUCH. Kelly makes all the right noises for her heroine, Darcy, wanting independence and finding herself pregnant after a one-night stand; at least initially, makes her hero, Jeff, if not reluctant, then gobsmacked. But what’s most interesting about Stranger’s Rocky and One Night’s Rhys is their reluctance for insta-love for the heroine. They’re responsible and decent, but man, this is not where they want to be. The development of how they end up wanting to be there, as dads and husbands, is so much more believable and natural than the utterly-smitten-I’m-all-in-all-the-time Jeff. Romance novels are to a certain extent, yes, fantasies and Jeff’s sheer goodness, sexiness, and emotional open-ness are attractive, just not terribly compelling. It’s not as much fun when the hero doesn’t have far to fall (do check out Stranger‘s Rocky and his near-clownish antics at the end). Darcy too is an etiolated version of the Amazonian Angie. She pays lip-service to a “feisty” independence, but never enacts it. What does Waking Up Pregnant have going for it?
Jeffrey Norton meets Vegas cocktail waitress, Darcy Penn, in the bar where she works. He is attracted to her joie-de-vivre laugh and asks her for a date. She agrees, the careful, controlled, wrong-side-of-the-tracks-but-I-won’t-end-up-like-my-mother Darcy, thinking, now that she’s leaving Vegas, she deserves one wild night with a handsome, rich, and sexy man: “Maybe tonight, after living the straight and narrow for so long, she could afford to break the rules without worrying about tomorrow.” (Apparently she can’t; the universe punishes with unwanted pregnancies and debilitating morning sickness.) She goes into this knowing it’s “just about sex.” However, for both Darcy and Jeff, the night is memorable and moving; the sex is near-spiritual in its connection and goodness. When Jeff goes into the washroom after the love-making, he realizes that an “epic latex failure” occurred (doesn’t it always, folks?). In the meanwhile, Darcy, overwhelmed by her feelings for Jeff, leaves the hotel room, knowing that her heart is at stake and for Jeff, she’s only a one-night stand. Therein lies the problem with the novel, Waking Up Pregnant establishes this quasi-emotional connection too much, too soon, almost as if leery of the very premise on which it is based.
When pregnant Darcy confronts Jeff three months later, he jumps into taking care of her, taking care of everything. Very admirable, yes, and the kind of quality we can appreciate in a hero. Poor Darcy retches into his garbage bin and runs into the bathroom of his office to clean up. He makes sure that a new liner awaits her return: ” ‘You got a fresh can for me?’ ‘ … I didn’t want you to have to put your face in the old one.’ ” Nice. Super-nice. Jeff is kind, thoughtful, and fun. When they succumb to their attraction, even when they agree a relationship is untenable … why, pray tell? that never made sense to MissB … he is also a great lover. There is a distinct lack of tension in this romance novel: it is, more than anything, a domestic romance. Jeff and Darcy spend most of the novel having dinner, making sure she’s well-rested, going for walks, spending a lot of quality time together. What keeps them apart? Well, Darcy is keen on being independent, but she’s so pregnancy-debilitated and hopelessly in love with Jeff, she never quite does anything about it. She’s also aware of her lack of education and status; how can she ever belong to Jeff’s wealthy and prestigious world? Jeff, in turn, is supposed to be clueless about his feelings. He certainly tells us he is, but everything he does and says speaks to the contrary. He never has one ass-holey moment and that makes for a dearth of tension in this novel. (Really, it nearly made MissB. nostalgic for the Kristen Ashley novel she gave up.)
Miss Bates feels that her review is churlish: why is she finding fault with a romance that posits a good-guy hero? How fair is she being when she says that Waking Up Pregnant depicts the guy who finds out he’s knocked up a stranger emotionally unbelievable? She’s not sure. But she does say that, when your protagonists spend this much lovely time together and have a lot of “hots” and sexy times together and like each other so much, they come across as … well … stupid when it takes them that long to realize this is love. Moreover, part of the problem is that Jeff is so much wealthier than Darcy that it’s difficult to resist having her life taken care of, especially when he’s such a darn nice guy. Miss Bates was never quite comfortable with this relationship: Jeff had to be nice to be viable in the way he dominates Darcy’s life, transforms it … maybe for the better, yes. But. Still. On the other hand, there’s an über-cool May-to-December secondary romance that Miss Bates would have loved to read about.
Kelly’s Waking Up Pregnant has funny moments and is written with pith and wit. The love scenes are particularly compelling. It’s a decent read and therein Miss Bates found a romance narrative that is “almost pretty,” Northanger Abbey.
Mira Lyn Kelly’s Waking Up Pregnant is published by Harlequin (Kiss) and has been available in the usual formats at the usual vendors since March 1st.
Miss Bates is grateful to Harlequin for an e-ARC that she received, via Netgalley, in exchange for this honest review.