This series is prime comfort material. The homey vibe hugs readers, but it’s more the warmth of heated floors than a campfire outdoors. In short, Coming Undone is cosy, but lacks spark. To elaborate:
You’d love to have these characters in your life. With their unconditional love and support, insatiable seksual appetites, unwavering hotness, and stubborn sincerity, they’d be the best friends you’ll ever have. But what we want in real life is not necessarily what we want from fiction. People read for many different reasons: Some read to escape, others to learn, others to think. Some enjoy reading about lives less hectic than their own. I like to read about characters who have bigger issues than I do – and this is why Coming Undone doesn’t suit me.
The characters’ histories are more intriguing than their present. The truly bad stuff is behind them; they’ve survived, and even thrived. Now, there’s only the THREAT/IDEA that what and whom they love most will be taken away – it doesn’t actually HAPPEN. And this troubles me because there’s great potential here for conflict to form a real page-turner. But that’s all it is: potential. The way things could’ve gone, but didn’t, would’ve made a much stronger, gripping story. Coming Undone certainly has a whimsical charm about it, but it could’ve been more.
-Elise fancies Brody. He fancies her. They strike up a deal for shagging without love. Their shagging is perfect every time (if in different positions). They fall in love with one another. They marry. VERDICT: Potential to create conflict, but doesn’t.
-Elise is the single mother of a circa-seven-year-old. Rennie is well behaved, socially well adjusted, healthy, spirited, loving and talented…the kind of kid who isn’t flawed. Who doesn’t throw tantrums, or has trouble making friends, who’s not particular skilled or gifted, or has chronic illness. Yes, being a parent can ruin seksytimes…only it doesn’t here. Elise’s parents and friends are always on hand to be with Rennie, so Elise and Brody can have seksytimes. They even have seksytimes while Rennie is in the house, but she never interrupts or wants attention at a less-than-convenient time. VERDICT: Potential to create conflict, but doesn’t.
-The characters are very close with their families and their friends. Everyone does what they love, and loves what they do. They’re successful. They’re businesses are popular and profitable. They’re the best in their fields. Everyone is ridiculously good-looking. Everyone is healthy, even mentally. The only character who’s less than perfect is Raven, and that’s why she’s my favourite. She doesn’t have everything she wants. She feels left out. She feels Elise is usurping Raven’s position within the group. Raven doesn’t want to settle down and get married and have kids. She’s the devil’s advocate who dares to admit that all this lovey-dovey, cosy-sweetness thing is actually quite freaking annoying. She’s the only character who has a distinctive personality (the others may have different names, jobs and relationships, but at the core they’re the same). At one stage Raven asks Brody about Elise, “Is her pussy magic?” Raven may be cast in the bich role, but she’s my favourite, and I love her to bits. Does she cause conflict? Yes, but not enough to derail the relationship or life. She just plants doubt and jealousy; not a big deal. VERDICT: Potential to create conflict, but doesn’t.
-Elise killed her druggie ex in self-defence. No criminal charges, no prison, no worries. She took her daughter and easily moved west, got a house, a job, a lover, friends, and living near her parents (and babysitters on demand for Rennie). Everyone thinks she’s perfect, but Elise claims not to be: that she’s a bad daughter, wife, mother, lover, friend. But she’s not. She may have poor self-esteem, but she is essentially perfect. VERDICT: Potential to create conflict, but doesn’t.
-Elise’s ex’s parents take her to court to claim full custody of Rennie. They could’ve really loved Rennie, but instead saw her as a tool to defeat Elise. The Sorensons have no real proof that Elise is unfit to be a mother. And whilst in the restroom, the judge overhears Mrs Sorenson antagonise Elise and admit they only want Rennie for spite. Case easily closed in favour of Elise. VERDICT: Potential to create conflict, but doesn’t.
-The characters are rather verbiose, excellent at forming sentences that say exactly what they mean and in such elaborate detail. Dare I suggest taking writing advice from Futurama‘s Robot Devil: “Your lyrics lack subtlety. You can’t just have your characters announce how they feel.” There are MONOLOGUES in this book. The characters are always in each other’s business, discussing their seks lives. Everything is shared. Brody tells his siblings to mind their own business, but they don’t, and he lets them. VERDICT: Potential to create conflict, but doesn’t.
-Erin is married to Todd, and Ben is their husband, just not in official paperwork. Erin is pregnant. Who’s the biological father of the child? I’m guessing we won’t know, because the baby will love everyone equally, and will be equally loved by all. But the very fact that Erin and Todd are married shows a power imbalance, though they claim to be equal. But Ben’s on the outside because of their marriage. As kids grow up, you can see physical resemblances to their ancestors. I don’t know if it’s scientifically possible to have genetic material from two fathers unless there’s IVF or whatever involved, but this baby is conceived just by rooting. I would love for the baby to be genetically Ben’s and for that to be obvious as the kid ages. That could cause conflict. But I think we all can guess that it won’t. I’d love to be proven wrong, I really would. VERDICT: Potential to create conflict, but probably won’t.