I failed to see the signs of what I was getting into.
The story started out with two Smith College girls, headed up to Dartmouth for a weekend. The narrator was bookish and quiet, her lifelong friend the kind of girl who’s working her way through the world’s gin and men.
Up at Dartmouth, the girls watch a football game, particularly two players so impossibly handsome that Ryan Gosling should watch his back.
And with that, A Hundred Summers by Beatriz Williams was off and running.
After all a book with two college girls and two handsome football players doesn’t have to be a romance novel, does it? Because just the sight of a romance novel cover makes me grab my head and clench my jaw and lose faith in humanity.
Williams’ book promised family secrets and summer beach colonies, hurricanes and gossip about the neighbor’s marriage. Looked like normal novel fare to me.
But pretty soon I was reading the dialogue out loud to my husband as he dug into his lunch: “Listen to this: ‘I could eat you up. I’ve been like a madman.’ And ‘Stop that or I’m going to start kissing you and crash us into a lamppost.’ And ‘You’re like milk and honey, Lily. . . . You’re the antidote to all evil . . Marry me now.’
“Who says this stuff?!” I told him. “You never said this stuff.”
Plainly the two Adonises in this tale are little more than plastic, wind-up Ken dolls, programmed with stock phrases.
That was when it was clear I had fallen into a romance novel, and an awful one (but I repeat myself). That and when the two Adonises started fumbling with the buttons on ladies’ dresses. Quite often, it turns out.
Are all romance novels this squirm-inducing?
To be fair, Williams writes beautifully. Elevators “reach the ground floor with a clang and a hydraulic sigh.” Insects “scrape their wings on the grass around us.” Street lamps throw their light on the hero’s “strong regular features.” But the characters are about as real as what your four-year-old makes up when she play-acts with her dolls. The plot suffers from a good deal of thrown-in drama and story holes. Finally, Williams over-relies on the ellipsis. “But I suppose . . . Well, with Daddy the way he is, maybe she wants to kick up her heels once in a while, and doesn’t want him to feel . . .” And the character trails off, implying that finishing her sentence is just too painful, and therefore implying DRAMA and PATHOS and HUMAN SUFFERING. I spent half the book, guessing at what they didn’t want Daddy to feel and other half skipping all the parts where the guys went after those dress buttons.
At least no bodices got ripped.