I’ve enjoyed Ruby Lang’s Uptown series and this, the last and third, may be my favourite. The hero and heroine, in keeping with Lang’s urban setting (another kudo for the series), have been around the block. They’re in their forties, were married over fifteen years ago; it ended badly. Now, reunited after a chance meeting, they’re cohabiting thanks to the New Yorker’s ever-present search for a great apartment and reasonable rent. They’re roommates in the Harlem-set building featured in the first two series novellas. Lang has cleverly made setting constant and introduced a new couple into each narrative. By novella three, you’re loving the place, feeling cozy and comfortable with its familiarity, and intrigued by the new couple who becomes its denizen. At 44, Simon Mizrahi has settled into life as a music teacher and choral conductor. He’s achieved professional success. At 42, after travelling the world to learn a unique craft, Lana Kuo returns to NYC as noodle-maker at a Pan-Asian restaurant, hoping, finally, to have a job with health insurance and benefits. She’s content with where she’s brought herself, having learned to ask for what she needs and made her peace with her past: leaving Simon, quitting school.
What I loved most about Simon and Lana was their melancholia. They weren’t angsty, or depressed. They were subdued, NOT ebullient (too much ebullience in romance, as far as I’m concerned). In the relationship department, it’s obvious they’ve both dated, but nobody has stuck. Sharing an apartment, they easily fall into a relationship and it’s a likeable one. They take care of each other, share a temperamental cat, and fall asleep, too often, on the couch. Their jobs are exhausting and they support each other in them. They also fall into a hot, intense intimacy, always with a streak of sadness. Will this last? Do they love one another? What happens when the sublet is up? How vulnerable can they make themselves? The speculations meant Simon and Lana spent a lot of time in their heads and, as a result, so do we. Though this usually bothers me in a romance narrative, I was okay with it. It made sense: after seventeen years apart, hurt, doubt, vulnerability, how can they not factor in this reunited former husband-and-wife?
Mostly, I love how Lang writes: it’s spare, elegant, and tender. Here is Lana, thinking about Simon:
Curled up underneath his arm, she was aware at that moment she felt more secure right here, right now than she ever had before. And with that realization, she knew she loved him. She didn’t still love him. She simply loved him, and it was like a new wound on top of the old, a fresh surge of love where there’d been a scar.
In a few sentences, Lang captures the healing, realization, and rightness of Simon and Lana. Oh, there are impediments, hurts to heal, honesty to come through with, but the new love on the old in this reunited, melancholic pair, they belong together. The pesky cat, Muffin, aloof, indulged, too often grouchy, withholding of affection, she belongs with them too. A lovely epilogue ensues. Lang’s House Rules is slight, but no less powerful as a romance narrative than many a padded longer treatment on offer from the genre. With Miss Austen, “House Rules” is indicative of “a mind lively and at ease,” Emma.
Ruby Lang’s House Rules is published by Carina Press. It was released in February and may be found at your preferred vendor. I received an e-ARC from Carina Press, via Netgalley.