It often seems like an uphill battle to find a good contemporary romance. Too often, seemingly promising stories are riddled with contrivances that keep me at a distance. Unlikeable characters, trust issues, lack of communication, infidelity, they’re all factors that seem rampant in the contemporary genre, yet they rarely inspire me to connect with the romance as it unfolds.
A few chapters into Ruthie Knox’s About Last Night, I was sure that it was only a matter of time before one of the aforementioned annoyances reared its ugly head. Cath was far too engaging a narrator: smart with both self-deprecating humor and confidence, a nice yet normal (read:unvoluptuous) physique, and a striking narrative style as an American amidst Londoners. I was wary of the skeletons that Cath had hidden in her closet, and make no mistake, Knox makes sure that her characters are real people. Both Cath and Nev have flaws, but they are flaws that make me want to know them better to contrast the good with the bad.
Knox doesn’t avoid all the typical romance novel themes, and Cath exhibits massive trust issues throughout much of the novel. However, what makes Knox’s take on this trope so refreshing is Nev’s acknowledgment and understanding of Cath’s skittishness. He knows that the road to her heart will not be easily paved, and he goes in anyway, fully expecting it to take a lot of time and effort. I did get somewhat annoyed with Cath at times for pushing Nev away, but I always got where she was coming from. What’s more amazing is that Knox managed to inspire such sympathy while withholding from both Nev and the readers the full story behind Cath’s past. Even without fully understanding why Cath has adopted her defense mechanisms, I still supported her desire to keep Nev, and the potential for heartbreak, at a distance. Nev’s character is a bit more straightforward, though never predictable. Despite his distaste for Cath’s “nice” moniker, his words and actions belie the fact that he is a good man, through and through. I was so glad that Knox didn’t feel the need to besmirch his character in order to provide depth. Sometimes, good people remain good and simply exhibit poor judgment every now and then. In the end, Nev was a great guy who made the mistake of acting like a typical guy, but his character never changed to suit plot purposes.
Knox once again surprised me when she infused actual character growth into the story with nearly half the book remaining. Cath retains some of her trust issues, but she nevertheless decides to open up to Nev bit by bit. Most heroines would doggedly adhere to their misguided convictions to the very end, so I was thrilled to witness Cath’s gradual evolution start midway through the book. Knox avoided another potential pitfall in the way she handled Nev’s family situation. While I was fully expecting Nev’s predicament to precipitate a falling-out between Cath and Nev, I was pleasantly surprised to see Nev come clean to Cath before that could happen. Too often, characters exhibit an unnerving lack of communication that does nothing to convince me of their actual regard for each other. Yet, even though Cath has trouble opening up about her past, she and Nev are honest with each other in the ways that count. They might not have known each other for very long, but the mere fact that Nev lets Cath in on this facet of his life rather than try to hide it from her tells so much about their mutual respect. That’s not to say that the inevitable fight isn’t provoked, but the way in which it comes about is one that I didn’t see coming.
Perhaps what I loved most about this story is the fact that, even though Cath and Nev barely know each other, I never felt as if their relationship was fueled solely by lust. Knox shows how connection doesn’t always have to be built on a shared past; sometimes, the present is enough to provide the foundation for something that, while new and tenuous, is nonetheless real. From the first, Cath and Nev enjoy being in each other’s company, and I was as lost as Cath as soon as Nev revealed the nicely naughty man that hid beneath City’s cool exterior.
Knox has found a spot on my auto-buy list with this fun, moving title. I can’t wait to see what else she has in store and hope she continues to turn the typical tropes on their heads.