Logan and Brooke had crushes on each other during high school, but never told each other how they felt. A decade later, they have an improbable meeting in the Caribbean and engage in a steamy love affair that may just turn into something more…
Giving it All is Book 3 of 4 in Christi Barth‘s “Naked Men” series. (Purchase at Amazon or Barnes and Noble or through your local indie store.) The “Naked Men” are occasionally naked in literal terms, but the title refers to the blog set up by the male protagonists. The Naked Men are friends and help each other through their problems. Will Logan and Brooke share a HEA (Happily Ever After)? Time will tell, but there will be a lot of hot lovemaking before we find out.
I don’t know how many of my readers or friends have picked up a romance novel recently, but I maintain that we are all missing out if we don’t work them into our balanced reading diet. They’re fun! And why are they fun? Because the author is focused on making sure that the reader is having a good time. He or she makes some very clear promises and (one hopes) fulfills them. As I pointed out in my GWS essay about Wendy S. Marcus’s The Doctor She Always Dreamed Of, the narrator in a romance novel can add greatly to the fun. Ms. Barth uses her narrator to great effect in Giving it All.
No matter what you write, the narrator’s persona must fit the purpose of the work. Or as Hamlet said, “suit the action to the word, the word to the action.” Take a look at the opening of the beautiful but dark and sad Thomas Keneally novel Schindler’s List:
Keneally’s narrator makes it very clear that this will not be a laff-a-minute joy ride. Look at the chauffeur’s joke–“icy as a widow’s heart.” That’s sad. The widow (and the teller of the joke, I suppose) don’t express full empathy and humanity. We are told this is a story about evil. We read “the beast” and “fatal human malice.”
The narrator of Schindler’s List establishes the tone of the book and sweeps the reader along with him or her. Giving it All is a very, very different book (obviously) and deserves a different narrator. And what a fun voice it is!
Ms. Barth’s narrator fits the plot and the characters, doesn’t it? If you’re willing to read a romance novel, you are probably having a good time with this narrator. (If reading about people seeing each other across the room and feeling sexual attraction is a problem for you–Brooke gets her chance–then you probably aren’t going to pick up a romance novel.) The narrator of the book doesn’t stand at a distance; he or she is right beside the reader, acting in the same manner as a person with whom you are sharing guy talk or girl talk. The tone is so much fun and invites you to pretend that a buddy just jabbed you in the ribs and said, “Hey, bro. Isn’t that that cheerleader you had a huge crush on in high school? Shoot. She’s looking good. You should say hi.”
Which is a good way to introduce another reason that Ms. Barth’s book is successful: Giving it All appeals to a universal desire. Didn’t we all have at least one big crush in high school? No matter how happy you are in life, no matter how many years have passed, doesn’t the memory of the proverbial Little Red-Haired Girl or Boy have a place in your heart? Young crush love is very pure. Sure, Brooke and Logan wanted to have sex with each other when they were in high school. But because they were teenagers, their hearts unscarred by life, there was a purity to their feelings. Readers enjoy living vicariously through literary characters…particularly the ones in romance novels. Ms. Barth taps into these common desires, gaining easy access to the reader’s heart.
Giving it All is a satisfying read, not only in the context of the romance genre. Ms. Barth includes plenty of “heat,” as romance people say, but also makes the reader care about Brooke and Logan and their individual problems. Perhaps most impressive (and pleasing), the men in the book feel like men. They speak like men and think like men. Sometimes we love to say cruel things to our friends. Sometimes we are 100% focused on our redhead friend lying beside us. Sometimes we just want to provide for everyone we love.
The book, like the relationship between the protagonists, is not merely a white-hot sexual bacchanalia. It’s also the chronicle of two people falling in love…after a white-hot sexual bacchanalia.