Wild River, Book #1
Heat Factor: Not closed door, but not light-the-snowsuit-on-fire either
Character Chemistry: Pretty sure Reed could have chemistry with anyone
Plot: How can a Very Important Person make a vacation romance work?
Overall: It is a Christmas book, but it also has depth
I expected this to be a sappy, maybe trite, Christmas special sort of book. It was set in December. It was a romance with a lot of feels. But it didn’t go quite so far as to be an ooey, gooey, nonsensical Christmas special. I enjoyed it much more than I expected I would.
The heroine: Surgeon Erika Sheraton is a workaholic who spends more time at the hospital than at her condo. She drives herself hard because she’s been seeking her father’s approval since her mother’s death when she was quite young. The most important thing in her life is the development of an anti-rejection drug that will be safer than the ones that contributed to her mother’s death after a kidney transplant rejection. Erika is forced to go on vacation in December because the hospital board has decided to enforce some rules regarding leave. What’s a workaholic with no friends and no life to do? Return to her hometown of course!
The hero: Reed Reynolds is a bartender in Wild River, Alaska, but his real career is being a lead search and rescue volunteer. Search and rescue has been driving his life since he became an adult, but he’s really been driven by his father’s disappearance when he was a teenager. He’s portrayed as the guy you went to high school with who’s so into being in the Volunteer Fire Department that the judgier among us would say he hasn’t done anything with his life “but he had so much potential!” (Bless his heart.) Personally I was concerned about his insurance situation since he’s a bartender and is constantly going out into life-threatening situations. But I really need to stop letting real life intrude on my enjoyment.
The situation: Erika springs her visit on her high school best friend, with whom she has had no contact for a decade. Friend Cassie is an adventurous free spirit, so she welcomes Erika with only a few reservations. When Erika shows up and is so awkward that she can’t even have a normal conversation without sounding like a total snob, things look like they may not go so well, but after the friends get wasted at the bar where Reed works on the first night, things smooth out. It is hard to talk to people after 10 years, especially if you feel badly about not talking to people for 10 years.
Of course, Reed carries drunk Erika up to her friend’s apartment because Erika’s shoes are completely impractical, and hot men who carry interested ladies up stairs are pretty irresistible. Sparks start to fly, but there’s resistance at first. IDK why. Seems like a wasted effort on Erika’s part certainly, particularly because Erika ends up spending a lot of time with Reed during the days as Cassie’s working. Eventually Reed and Erika acknowledge their mutual attraction and (dare I say?) feelings for each other. But this is a vacation, and as much as Erika likes Wild River and participating in search and rescue activities with Reed (slash just plain likes Reed), her life, her work, her identity, are in Anchorage. And Reed’s life is in Wild River.
For your consideration: More than anything else, identity and expectations are central in this story. Erika basically embodies everything I hate about American work/success culture. She regularly works 18 hour days and expects the doctors she’s training to do likewise. When offered a position to replace a retiring surgeon in Wild River, she straight up says she can do more important work in Anchorage. She questions why Reed would be tending bar – like why wouldn’t he be doing more with his life? She has put 100% of herself into her work because that’s where she sees herself as successful, and the result is that by any reasonable standard, her life is kind of horrible. She has no friends, her relationship with her dad (the head of general surgery at the hospital…so her boss) is crap, and her job is satisfying but also stresses her out because she’s constantly trying to do better (mostly to get her father’s attention). But she’s the best surgeon at Alaska General Hospital and she’s working on this drug that can save lives, so she is successful. And she’s financially secure with a fat paycheck and all that, which is a very good place to be. If she were happy, I’d say, “Good for you, Erika,” but she’s not, so instead I say, “Please get out of your own way, Erika.”
For his part, Reed has been embodying a solid work/life balance, and his success doesn’t fall into the classic trap of being some kind of 9-5 job that requires oodles of overtime but comes with a huge paycheck. He is excited about being a team lead for the search and rescue crew, but it’s a volunteer position. A volunteer position that requires one to be able to drop everything at a moment’s notice and conduct a S&R operation. He also enjoys working at the bar with his friend Tank (bar owner and hopefully love interest of Cassie in the next book), and he doesn’t feel inadequate until Erika rolls into town. Then he sees her drive and success and feels judged (not incorrectly), so he starts to make stupid assumptions about what kind of man would be worthy of her or some nonsense. He might wish he’d gone for a nursing degree or become an EMT.
This is the aspect of the narrative I found most interesting, because usually this sort of “unequal match” feeling stems from the man feeling more-or-less emasculated by the woman’s success. Reed needs to be “more” for Erika because…why? Presumably because if he’s going to be a man who is worthy of her, he needs to match her own success better. This is typical when a female character is “more successful” than a male character, while the reverse dynamic elicits none of the same stressors. But by the same standards under which Reed and Erika are already operating, if Erika’s a surgeon and Reed’s an EMT or a nurse, sure he might then have regular, full time employment with benefits, but Erika’s still going to be the breadwinner and her career would still outshine his (in our current cultural climate of measuring success and worth). Snow doesn’t fully dig into this apart from how it impacts the protagonists’ decisions about being together. Building off of this sidelined conflict, with the Erika-in-Anchorage and Reed-in-Wild-River and who/what-is-important consideration, Snow also explores the idea of compromise in relationships. For Reed and Erika to be together, one of them is going to have to give up something. If Erika moves to Wild River, she has to give up her drug trials and being a bigshot surgeon at Alaska General. If Reed moves to Anchorage, he has to give up being on the S&R team. So the question comes down to what’s important to them and how they achieve that. Does it mean being together or not? Life is all about choices.
So you see, this book was totally satisfying from a romance standpoint, even if it was a Christmas special, because it also had some depth in the mix.
I voluntarily read and reviewed a complimentary copy of this book. All thoughts and opinions are my own. We disclose this in accordance with 16 CFR §255.
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