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. (more…)
I thought Ruby Lang’s Uptown series first, novella Playing House, pleasant, but slight. Nevertheless, I love Lang’s elegantly irreverent voice and looked forward to a more substantial treatment in Uptown #2, Open House, and got exactly what I was looking for: a layered, sophisticated romance, with likeable, realistic, engaging characters, and depths of feelings like a sinker going at the end of a fishing line. You never know where this light, humourous ethos will take you, but it’ll plump interesting depths along the way. Open House is the story of debt-ridden real-estate associate Magda Ferrer and accountant Tyson Yang. Magda and Tyson find themselves on opposites sides of the garden-fence when he becomes the defender of a geriatrically-occupied, spontaneous (ahem, not exactly legally-sanctioned) Harlem-set community garden as Magda is the agent set to sell it to the highest bidder, or as she puts it “She was going to have to kick a bunch of aunties out of their fucking fairy-tale meadow.”
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.
Rarely does a romance novel see Miss Bates guffaw, snort-laugh, and then read the final page with gulping sobs, but Ruby Lang’s Clean Breaks did!
Miss Bates hates it when romance reviewers dub romance novels “fresh”, as if every other romance written to this point were stale. But Lang’s Clean Breaks felt, to MissB. at least, that Lang’s voice, characterization, conflict, were, ugh, she hates to say it, a “fresh” take on the genre. Clean Breaks made MissB. stand up and take notice instead of sink into the comforting, stock romance arc. What was “fresh”? On a micro-scale, Lang’s ironic quip of a title – that “clean breaks” aren’t possible. As her heroine realizes, love doesn’t call when one is ready, cleansed of messy conflict and perfected in career, life-style, and balanced inner workings. Nope, it asks admittance and its call must be answered, even when life is uncertain and messy. On a macro-scale, Lang made MissB laugh and cry, and discover a “fresh” new romance voice. Not bad for a few hours reading on a lazy summer Sunday afternoon.