Review: Marriage Meltdown

Marriage Meltdown Marriage Meltdown by Emma Darcy
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I never thought I would enjoy the “marriage in peril” trope. You know, the one where hero/heroine are in a troubled marriage and they go through some stuff and rediscover they're made for each other, so there's lots of “whoa, we've never done it in this position before” type of sex and “I can't believe he put toothpaste on my toothbrush so I won't have to. Aww…” gestures. But all the shitty stuff and the anger and the bitterness before the breakthrough is just depressing. There’s almost always a sense of dissatisfaction and weariness in both parties, like a “what's the point of even trying? This relationship is dead and the world is terrible” kind of thinking that just sucks you into this dense, inescapable black hole of suffering and misery. Oh, and somebody is bound to be thinking of cheating or is already cheating. Things like that just come a little too close to real life for me. Shit gets real, you know? Give me secret babies, mistress kidnappings, bachelor auctions, and second-chance amnesia stories any day.

In this lovely tale, Reid and Gina have been married for seven years and have three children under the age of eight; the guy is a high-powered executive and the wife is a stay-at-home mom. For years, they’ve been satisfied with this arrangement, but lately it seems they’ve been stuck in a rut. The sex is boring, everything is routine, and even the arguments are boring. They have a satisfactory, but very dull marriage...until the day Gina finds herself wanting more. I was actually pretty surprised at how dry-eyed I stayed while reading this book and I can tell you that Emma Darcy is usually pretty good at making me cry (like, ugly cry). I think it’s because Reid and Gina seem to be fairly reasonable, decent people who just kind of lost touch of who they are as a couple and stopped talking about the important things. I can’t even be snarky about this: I really enjoyed this book. No, shut up. I really did.

Your Heroine: Gina Tyson is a housewife and mother. Don’t worry, she’s not bedraggled and tired or anything---she has a housekeeper and a part-time nanny. How sweet is that life? She’s the wife of a multi-millionaire and don’t gotta do nothing but sit around and watch TV all day, if she wanted. But she’s a good mother and doesn’t sit around on her butt all day, as some of us might, given half the chance. She is twenty eight years old and her husband Reid is closer to forty, but he is also a very fit, very handsome, suave, sophisticated man-about-town, who tends to inadvertently make Gina feel insecure and wonder why such a cool dude could be happy with a hausfrau like her. Ever since they started having children, he has become cool and distant toward her, like he no longer sees her as a woman. Does he even find her attractive anymore? Did he just stick her in a box marked “mother of my children” and that’s all he sees her as?

One evening, during a particularly awkward dinner, Gina asks Reid about an upcoming 2-week trip he’s about to take to Europe, along with his beautiful personal assistant Paige. While trying to make conversation, she tells him she noticed that he won't be staying at the usual places he'd had for years and has instead decided to try a little luxury lodge. Reid tells her it's because the facilities are more accommodating for a businessman of his caliber and Paige had recommended it and said it would be perfect. Suspicious, Gina continues to prod and finds Reid reticent. Finally, she gets him to admit that he and Paige will be sharing a two-bedroom apartment suite and that's just a little too cozy for Gina’s comfort. Gina tells Reid that she would like to join him this time and Reid gets testy and says her place is with the children and besides, it's not a goddamn vacation, he'll be working. Annoyed with her, Reid stalks off to his study and Gina makes her way to their bedroom to get ready for bed.

With a strict Catholic upbringing and a mother who raised her to believe that sex is something to be done in the dark and under covers, Gina is a little repressed. She'd like to know how to please Reid before he goes seeking his pleasure elsewhere---if he hasn't already---but doesn't quite know what to do. She pumps herself up to seduce Reid and puts on her sexiest nightie, but chickens out when Reid walks in through the door and gives her an insulting, leery onceover and says he's not interested. He tells her in no uncertain terms that she doesn't have to whore herself out to him because her position as wife is safe as he has no interest in leaving her and the children. He may fuck around, but he'll always go home to her. And now he needs to take a hot shower, he says, because her attempts at seduction leave him cold.

Ohhhhh snap! Another woman would have maybe stabbed him in the face with scissors. But our plucky heroine will not let this first humiliation deter her. She follows Reid into the bathroom and talks herself into seducing him in the shower. Her nerve fails again when a naked, showering Reid turns toward her and gives her a mocking, challenging look. But Gina tells herself that she will not lose her husband to some office floozy, takes a deep breath, and gets into the shower stall with him. After a few moments of awkward kissing and uncertain groping---Reid is not being very cooperative---Gina gets the hang of it and into a groove. All of a sudden, Reid is not so cold and he's hoisting her up against the shower wall and they get it on standing up for the first time. Gina thinks, holy shit, I didn't even imagine anything like that was possible. She feels a sense of satisfaction that she made Reid lose control, but before she can feel smug about it, Reid is ready to go again. He says with a sneer, “Had enough?” Gina swallows her doubts, defiantly tosses her head back, and says, “I won't be the one waving the white flag at the end of this evening.” You go, girl. Get some!

The next day, Gina wakes up, feeling all kinds of sore in places of her body she's never been truly aware of. She finds out from the kids and the housekeeper that Reid had ordered them to let her sleep in and rest. Gina feels all warm and giddy, thinking of how caring Reid is and how attentive he was during the passionate marathon lovemaking sessions they had the night before, assured that her marriage will again soon be back on track. And then everything comes crashing down around her ears when her son tells her that Daddy said mommy is not feeling well and she's not acting like herself, but after a couple of days, mommy should snap out of it and everything will go back to normal. Ah, Gina thinks. So that's how he intends to deal with this. Well, I won't let him get away with it. What he needs is a little reminder…

Your Hero: Reid Tyson meets Gina while Christmas shopping eight years ago for his family and she was selling personalized storybooks for children at the mall. He is immediately entranced by her warmth and smiles toward the children, but when she looks up and turns that smile on him, Reid thinks to himself, “Right, then, old boy. She'll do.” They date for a bit and soon get married. Reid likes to tell himself that the real reason he married Gina is because she's the complete opposite of his first wife, who was a cold, ambitious, manipulative woman who didn't want to have his children and just really liked being married to a rich guy :::sneer::: He had never meant for his second marriage to be a love match; a man in his position needs a wife, children, and a stable family life, which Gina provides for him, and for that, he's happy to play the good husband for her and jolly old dad for his kids, whom he actually loves very much. But he had never intended for Gina to become the love of his life. :::sneer::: He picked Gina because she fit the profile of what he thought a perfect wife and mother to his children should be.

And Gina is never the type to make a fuss, either. That was Reid’s favorite thing about her. She never nags him, never demands anything of him, never intrudes into the business side of his life, and is a wonderful mother to his children. Until BOOM goes the dynamite! Suddenly, she's sending him gigantic baskets of roses to the office, letting him know she loved him and will never forget the hot, hot lovin’ they gave each other. But Reid would rather she did. Hell, he'd like to banish the memories from that night himself. He'd never thought that Gina particularly enjoyed their lovemaking---probably squeezed her eyes and thought of England---so he can't quite believe this sexy, loving act that Gina is trying to pull. His ex-wife had tried to manipulate him with sex and he’ll be goddamned if he’d let Gina get away with it. She was just feeling insecure, that's all, and maybe suspicious, because he was, after all, a creature of habit and the sudden, radical change of his usual accommodations could be a cause for concern.

And she was right to be concerned because Reid has cheating on the brain. His very attractive assistant Paige has been dropping hints that she would like to become his mistress and Reid has to admit that he isn't particularly averse to the idea. In fact, he allowed Paige to change their accommodations because the lodge she suggested is known for its privacy and Reid has been wondering if he should test the waters on this trip with Paige.

Time out. Need to scream with rage. Arrrrrrrrrrrrgh! You cheating, lying, yellow-bellied piece of shit, DIE IN A FIRE. You better come correct, Reid, or I'm going to personally boot your ass out of the Harlequin Presents Kingdom.

Whew, that's better. Gina, who's been suspecting that Reid may have infidelity and dishonesty on his mind, decides to up her A game. She goes over to Reid’s office, dressed in a sexy, orange knock-out dress, to make sure he received the flowers and ask him out to lunch… Oh, and maybe afterward, they could head into the hotel room she reserved for some afternoon delight. (Gonna find my baby, gonna hold her tight/ Gonna grab some afternoon delight / My motto's always been "When it's right, it's right" / Why wait until the middle of a cold dark night?) Of course, Reid gets outraged that she would dare cross the line into the business side of his life like this and NO! He can't just take off and go to lunch with her because he has already promised Paige he's taking her out to lunch for her birthday. Gina’s eyebrows go up all the way to her scalp and her Italian side comes out and she's all, “Oh, you did not just say that to me, motherfucker. LISTEN to me and you listen good, if you come home tonight smelling like a cheap whore, you're gonna regret the day you found out what your dick’s for.” Then she sashays out of there like an empress, sails past Paige’s desk, gets a bright idea on her way to the elevator, returns to Paige’s desk, and asks for the number of Reid’s travel agent. Reid overhears and comes charging out like a bull, but Gina only looks at him sweetly, and says, “Well, darling, you said if I wanted a European vacation, I should plan it myself, so why shouldn't I talk to the travel agent you use all the time?” and “Oh, happy birthday, Paige!” Game, set, match… bitches!

OH MY WORD: What I immediately liked about this story was Gina’s unwillingness to roll over and play dead for anyone. Girl’s got gumption. The moment she suspects Reid may be up to no good, she is on him like white on rice and doesn’t let up until her quarry realizes, “Ah, shit, she’s onto me. I better give this shit up.” I really think there’s a distinct lack of “Fuck yeah, you go girl!” moments in romance novels these days, but this book has quite a few of them. The first time she tries to seduce Reid, Gina was nervous as hell, but goes through it anyway even when Reid immediately shoots her down. After suffering even more humiliation, she goes after him with the tenacity of a bulldog in the shower. Sure, she has her moments of self-pity, but she sure can recover right away, brush herself off, and get back on mission. Gina wants her man and ain’t nobody gonna stop her (spoiler alert: well, almost nobody). I really wished at one point, though, that she would have Reid’s packed bags waiting for him at the door and be like, “Uh-uh, you ain’t coming in. I think your ass better call Tyrone.” (and tell him to come and help you get yo’ shit).

Reid, on the other hand… oh, Reid. This motherfucker meant to cheat. HE WAS BANKING ON IT HAPPENING until Gina foiled his plans. And yet I can’t hate on him too much. Well, fine, I can. He’s a lying jerk with cheating on his mind. But he redeems himself so beautifully in the last third of the book and he does such a glorious, but “manful” grovel that I couldn’t help but forgive him, too. Bastard seemed like he was really sorry and throughout the book, he was so secretly hopeful that Gina’s change-of-heart was for real, that it was kind of cute. The VERY IMPORTANT dinner scene near the end was absolutely breathtaking. I was like, “OMG!!” the whole time. When he tells Gina about the first time he ever saw her at the mall, I got a little verklempt. I started thinking about this song “For You” by Kenny Latimore and I almost got teary---it was a very near thing (check out the video. Man, this dude can sing. I wanted this to be the song for our first dance at the wedding, but J was like, “No, pick something more standard. You’ll confuse my old, white relatives”). I stayed dry-eyed, though.

Here’s why I’m not giving this book an A, even though I liked it very very much. We don’t really get a history of Reid and Gina’s marriage. We don’t get to see how any of it goes wrong. We can’t know if Reid was a reliable narrator at the end there, considering he was trying to paint himself in the best light , so Gina would remember him as a good guy, but by his accounts, it seemed he fell in love with her at first sight. Gina seemed similarly inclined. Sure, Reid managed to convince himself later with his cynicism that Gina doesn’t really love him and he doesn’t really love her, and that their marriage isn’t “real” in that “love and honor” sense. According to Reid’s story, the two of them were equally entranced with each other. It was only later that we find out that Reid only married Gina because she fits the mold of what he thinks a wife and the mother of his children should be and most importantly, she is the complete opposite of his Cold! Ambitious! Gold-Digging! Evil! Ex-wife. I doubt he saw Gina that first time during the Christmas holidays at the mall, probably dressed in some kind of sexy Santa outfit, and thought, “Well, hellooooo, sperm depository!” There’s some stuff about Gina being a square about sex because of her upbringing and how Reid should have helped her understand what was happening to her sexually. But are you telling me in 7 years, Gina never once opened up to her husband and said, “Hey, I’m not frigid or anything, but… I’m just… really weird about sex because Catholicism…”? (hey, that’s WHY I’m weird about sex). And they’ve had three children, but never a heart-to-heart talk? Come on.

Lastly, I really hated that Reid was given an out with the whole Paige being a psycho-manipulator-blackmailer thing. Dude was intending to cheat on Gina with his personal assistant. We were privy to his thoughts, since some of the chapters were written from Reid’s point of view. We knew he thought that the Europe trip would be the perfect time to “test the waters” with Paige. He had every intention of cheating on Gina---even if Paige was some evil-ho-manipulator who leads her bosses into a sexual relationship so she can extort favors and money from them later. REID, you done fucked up. Don’t be blamin’ that shit on Paige. Be a man. Paige may have seduced you with her feminine wiles, but she didn’t forcibly put thoughts like “Boy, I wonder what it would be like to cheat on my wife and have sex with this woman” in your head.

Other than that, I really had no other issues with this book. I love me some vintage Emma Darcy. She’s one of my faves. There were some really stand-out moments in this book, too, that made me get choked up a little. My favorite one was when Reid realizes for the first time that he and Gina could be at the beginning of something really awesome and he’s suddenly filled with excited joy. Only they’re in the middle of a flight to Europe and even though they’re both in first class, Gina is in a seat a few rows behind him (she pointedly didn’t want to intrude between Reid and Paige). Paige is in the middle of talking to him, but he just kind of waves her away and takes off his seatbelt and walks back to where Gina is sitting. Gina looks up at him with all the love in her eyes and he softly asks her, “How are you doing?” And she says she’s fine and then he leans over and gives her a big ole kiss in front of everybody. He wants to blurt out a great many things to her, but instead he says, “Try the caviar with your dinner. It’s really good. Try the vodka, too. Pretend you’re Russian.” She laughs and says she will. Then he walks back to his seat and buckles on his seatbelt as Paige gives him a WTF look. Reid ignores her and sighs, leaning back into his seat. Later on, when he hears Gina ordering the caviar with her dinner, he smiles.

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