Miss Bates’ Christmas romance posts are edging closer to the much-anticipated day, Christmas! She has another three titles queued; her posts may just go to the twelfth day of Christmas 😉 … which is a perfect segue to her latest Christmas-set read, Susan Meier’s The Twelve Dates of Christmas, a romance built on the premise of a “deal” between two lonely, sad people. Ricky Langley, wealthy tech entrepreneur, seeks fake-date girl to convince his friends that he’s getting over the sad thing that happened to him a year and a half ago. He finds Eloise Vaughn at a mutual friends’ Christmas party when he bumps into her and crushes the crackers she’s sneaked into her purse. Why is Eloise stealing crackers? Because she’s poor, working as a temp, disowned by her wealthy parents for marrying beneath them to a motorcycle-riding bad boy. The bad boy died of cancer and left her widowed in New York City: now, all she wants is the independence and security that come with a solid, high-paying job. Eloise agrees to Ricky’s twelve-date deal in exchange for his help and connections to getting her dream job. Their deal is cemented by each one’s private resolution that he/she’s too hurt, too broken, and too cautious to be interested in anything more than an exchange of convenient “services.”
Ricky’s collision with Eloise prefigures the seismic emotional effect their meeting has on two grieving, isolated people. Ricky (a truly awful name for a hero, thought Miss Bates, making him sound like he’s 5 instead of 35) is the harder nut to crack. If Eloise’s story is a sad one, Ricky’s is sadder. If she lost her husband, he lost his 18-month old son, Blake. If Eloise at least loved and cared for her husband, Wayne, Ricky carries the guilt that he never sought custody of Blake from his irresponsible party-girl mother. Whatever mileage Meier got out of Blake and Eloise’s meet-cute is swallowed by their internal monologues of grief, guilt, and shame. What starts as a light-hearted romance novel turns sad and dark as soon as we are told (and there’s a lot of telling to this novel) their back-stories. Meier heaps misery on these two … and even though the melodrama is thick and fast and contrived, it was sufficiently effective that Miss Bates pitied them. BUT she didn’t love them: when a romance elicits pity, but remains contrived, it exhibits only a modicum success. Miss Bates was never NOT aware of what Meier was doing. Her enjoyment of the novel was limited by Ricky and Eloise’s heartache and Meier’s inability to move beyond her premise.
The twelve-date deal leading up to Christmas sees Eloise and Ricky attend parties, drink cocktails, ride the limo, dance, and converse. Eloise, in particular, is more forthcoming about what happened to land her in this situation. Her sadness and yet starvation for affection and friendship are worn squarely on her sleeve. Ricky is an abrupt and grouchy soul, but basically a decent man who thinks he didn’t measure up to his most important job, fatherhood. Once this premise is set up and characters are established, Meier’s Twelve Dates of Christmas suffers from what Miss Bates calls the vacillating romance narrative. The heroine has feelings for the hero, but the contrived nature of their relationship and her past sad experience has her internally alternating between growing feelings for him and cautionary remarks. The same goes for the hero: one step to liking the heroine and two steps back as to how pain-filled and undeserving he is.
Meier’s characters are sympathetic, but their internal vacillating ruminations are tedious after about chapter four. Meier’s problem, as so many gimmicky, or contrived contemporary romances possess, is “where can she go from here?” There should be reasons why these two can’t be together. Those reasons, on the basis of a frivolous premise, have to remain internal conflicts. Moreover, a civilized and honest conversation between Eloise and Ricky might solve their dilemma, but if this occurs, then where can we go beyond about halfway through the novel? Hence, the vacillations of “I like, love, lust him/her … no, no, I’m so unhappy, this would never work, I don’t deserve him/her” … with the result that characters waver and hesitate, as well as contradict themselves.
It seems to Miss Bates that characters shouldn’t be at the mercy of a premise, that a good romance has the premise serve the characters. Then, where would the conflict be? It remains internal, within conflicted, struggling souls. Yet, there were moments when the narrative charmed Miss Bates. When Eloise resolves to help Ricky be happy for the holidays and makes him grumpier, she says, “As Christmas angels went, she was a failure.” Eloise is cute and funny and holds her own against his grumpiness. Ricky too indulges in some good banter and behaves more lovingly than he gives himself credit for. There are scenes of genuine affection that moved Miss Bates. Meier tries to show that her hero and heroine experience growth. Ricky’s change-of-heart on Christmas Day is an absolute delight. Meier is a solid writer, with smooth turns of phrase and great kissing scenes. Despite these strengths to the romance novel, Miss Bates found the hero and heroine’s internal ruminations comprising dithering and ambivalence made for a whole load of “sound and fury.” Susan Meier’s The Twelve Dates of Christmas, Miss Bates says, is “almost pretty,” Northanger Abbey.
Susan Meier’s The Twelve Dates of Christmas, published by Harlequin (Romance), has been available since November 4th in “e” and paper formats at your preferred vendors.
Miss Bates received an e-ARC from Harlequin, via Netgalley.