Rant, Review

Review: Beach Read by Emily Henry (2020)

Heat Factor: I was expecting chick-lit level steam (so not much), and I was wrong

Character Chemistry: When it’s good, it’s good. When they’re struggling, I wanted to SCREAM.

Plot: She’s having a quarter life crisis. He’s a tortured soul. They’re both writers and neighbors on the lake in Michigan.

Overall: I am seriously not on board with January assuring Gus that she’ll stick through the messiness when Gus is scared to try a relationship and then immediately bailing in a meltdown when things get messy. Seriously. Not.

I am struggling with my feelings. Henry has created some super messy protagonists, so one really needs to go into this reading with the ability to understand and accept that some people are the most illogical creatures on earth and let themselves be ruled by all these messy feelings instead of doing the one (ONE!) thing that will solve their problem. 

I am not that person. 

On the other hand, Henry’s descriptiveness is awesome. All the similes and metaphors! So many similes and metaphors! But really, they’re fun, not obnoxious. And there are fun little asides. There was one point when January noted that her writing goal for the day was 1500 words, but she only managed 400. BUT she also played 20 hands of expert spider solitaire, so overall good day. And I felt that so hard

So when it was good, it was gooooooooood. But when January started melting down, it was (for me) not relatable, it was obnoxious. 

Here’s what we’ve got:

  • January’s father died unexpectedly a year ago, and at his funeral his mistress (about whom January knew nothing), gave January a key to his secret beach house and a letter (which, naturally, she does not read).
  • January has based her entire existence on the idea that love overcomes all, as demonstrated by her parents’ perfect romance.
  • January enters a grief spiral, so her boyfriend of seven years dumps her while they’re on a family vacation. 
  • January has writers block because she no longer believes in happily ever after (because her whole life is a LIE).
  • January’s neighbor at the beach house is Gus, her nemesis from college who writes lit fic, so obviously he thinks her romance is easy-to-write garbage. (The chip on this woman’s shoulder! Lemme tell ya…)
  • Gus is an emotionally unavailable hottie with serious baggage that January wants to crack open. 

Here’s where I’m struggling: The story is told from January’s POV, so it’s totally natural for it to be all about January. And people are entitled to their feelings and insecurities, and of course that’s not always going to play out neatly. But holy wow, it was all about January. She makes assumptions and worries about how things affect her to the exclusion of all else. Is there another way to look at this situation? Don’t be ridiculous! Is her behavior adversely impacting others? Who cares! She’s suffering

What January needs is to go to a therapist or grief counselor, like, a year ago. Slash when her mother was first diagnosed with cancer in her teens. Because yikes. And for someone to tell her that her parents’ marriage is really none of her business. And that her dad having an affair does not, in fact, mean that everything in her life was a lie. Crikey. 

So I’m super annoyed with January, like, a lot. 

Then I have to consider Gus. Am I being fair to January or do I have some internalized whatever that’s affecting me? 

Here’s my argument: Gus is opaque, but we are nebulously aware early on that Gus had a really hard life before January met him in college. Gus also writes really dark literary fiction (when they meet again, he’s working on a book about a suicide cult). Later we learn that Gus regularly sees a therapist and takes medication. So Gus might be a whole mess of his own, but, you know, he’s not doing garbage like assuming that January is mocking him with every conversation they have about writing or that January getting a phone call and walking away to take the call means she doesn’t love him anymore. 

So, you know, maybe I’m not struggling with my feelings about this one. I think I’m mostly angry that this book portrays yet another woman who consistently has irrational meltdowns about everything and fails to make good decisions about her self care while everyone around her does the opposite. And I’m REALLY angry that Gus is the one to make the grand gesture. Like. So. Angry. 

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