I love Ruby Lang’s voice: fresh, original, droll, sophisticated. “Playing House” is first in a series set amidst NYC-based real-estate-involved characters, whether urban planners, brokers, etc. In “Playing House,” unemployed, gig-economy-victim, urban-planner Oliver Huang is touring houses in Harlem when he meet-cute runs into recently-divorced, college-mate Fay Liu. He helps her avoid “Clompy Brent”, a dude coming on to her who can’t hear, or understand the word “no”. It’s obvious from the get-go that Oliver has harbored an attraction for Fay and Fay reciprocates. They fall into a pattern of pretending to be newly-weds, Olly and Darling, for the chance to urban-plan geek out on beautiful NYC properties. They enjoy their pretend dates and become lovers. In the meanwhile, a potential conflict rears its mild head because Oliver has applied for a job at the urban-planning firm, Milieu, where Fay is partner. Neither Oliver, nor Fay take their affair too seriously and they have a lot of stuff to figure out, given they’re both in transitional life-spaces. But it is serious because feelings are involved, the acquaintance too short-lived to result in anything but misunderstanding, doubts, and hurt feelings.
“Playing House” was too slight for me to say I loved it, but I can easily say I liked it. It had a few bugaboos. Oliver and Fay go from meet-cute bumping-into-each-other to this elaborate pretending to be newly-weds. This happened out of the blue and I honestly thought I must have blanked out an entire chapter while this was arranged. But nope … I kindle-back-tracked and the disjointedness wasn’t “it’s not you, it’s me”. As a couple, Oliver and Fay aren’t together a whole lot and even though their potential HEA is possible, I’m not thoroughly convinced it’ll gel. If you’re okay with that, then my HFN-dislike shouldn’t deter your enjoyment.
What I loved best about “Playing House” was Oliver’s relationship with his family. As a second-generation Canadian, the child of immigrants, I totally understand the expectations, chasms of non-communication, and feelings of obligation, guilt, and love. I loved Oliver’s brother and his relationship with his mother. Their near-mute understanding at the end was the better HEA of the two. Case in point, this wonderful exchange between mother and son:
“Yes, Oliver was right,” Ma said. She flicked a glance at her middle son, “Don’t let it go to your head.”
“When am I ever allowed to let anything go to my head?”
I smiled and smiled. They were funny, dissimilar, and real. “Playing House” wasn’t as perfect as the last Lang I read, Clean Breaks (don’t you dare miss it!), but there was enough of her signature poignancy, humour, and sharp insight into character to see me return for the rest of this series and what she can do with a meatier length. With Miss Austen, we deem “Playing House”offers “real comfort,” Emma.
Ruby Lang’s “Playing House” is published by Carina Press. It was released on August 12. I received an e-galley from Carina Press via Netgalley.