After A Fashion, by Jen Turano
[Note: This book was provided by Bethany House Publishers for free in exchange for an honest review.]
I must admit that few romance novels find their way to me, and so I often wonder if I am the most fair judge of them. That said, I will do my best. I enjoyed this novel, for the most part. It has complicated and sympathetic romantic leads (a spunky orphan in her early 20’s with an irregular education named Harriet Peabody and a wealthy New Yorker named Oliver Addleshaw, a single man in his early 30’s), who struggle to behave in a Christian manner in a situation where their honor and reputation are under attack and where both have people looking out for them and scheming and matchmaking. Likewise, the novel had some memorable and quirky secondary characters, including a delusional girlfriend dressed only in a wrapper, an actress whose style is more casual when she is not at work, and a benignly scheming near recluse and cat lady with the likely name of Abigail Hart, who takes in Harriet and her tenement-dwelling roommates in as wards, in part to protect their good names.
In terms of its plot, this is a brisk 340 pages of text. The book opens with a meet cute and spunky, and there are plenty of convenient happenings throughout the course of the novel. To be sure, this novel is wish fulfillment for women, in that it sets up what appears to be an unequal relationship between a wealthy man of dubious character and a desperate and vulnerable younger woman, and then has a dramatic twist that leads them both to fall in love, both to recognize the nobility in character of the other, and both to end up as elite peers in a twist that is a bit too convenient. The class politics angle of this novel greatly troubled me, as it seemed to assume that the couple would have been unsuitable on class grounds alone, when there was nothing that elite status added to the heroine except the approval of society snobs; she was the same young woman she was as a poor and generous-hearted hat girl with a vagabondish and tragic life history.
Nevertheless, I suspect this was not a novel written to be the grist for sociological experiments, except for the fact that the novel is the first in a series by the author called “A Class Of Their Own.” Although this is an immensely enjoyable novel, with a happy and satisfying ending, generally decent behavior on the part of its obviously sympathetic characters, it is the class element of this novel that is the most troubling, and it takes away from the joy that one should get in reading such well-written literature. That said, this novel will encourage a great many of its (mostly female) audience to hope that love for a woman will lead a man into a better work-life balance and encourage gallant behavior and a general alertness to the larger world rather than oblivious but not malicious blindness and insensitivity. Let us hope that future novels in this series will not feel it necessary to make any concessions to snobbery and will recognize that character ought to trump class in our view of others.