Hey there, everybody! Before we get started, I’ve got a housekeeping detail for Trout Nation and it is a DOOZY. Starting yesterday, you’ll be able to read my Sophie Scaife series (written as Abigail Barnette) on the Radish app! A new episode will release every day, Monday through Friday, and the first twenty or so episodes of The Boss are free so you can try before you buy!
Also, shout out to whoever left the Amazon review for Where We Land that pointed out the book is nothing like Poldark. I’ve had so many people mention that to me over the weekend.
Okay, now, let’s get into this book. The one you came here for. The one you don’t want to keep reading but find yourself inexplicably drawn back to.
Let’s get into.
Which, by the by, was a “deal of the day” on several book blogs last week when it was offered as a $2.99 sale ebook on Amazon. Like Fifty Shades of Grey and its sequels, The Mister has also been moved into categories it does not belong in to retain the illusion of super high sales numbers. Right now, it’s the #2 bestseller in “Mothers and Children Fiction” and #4 in “Mystery, Thriller, and Suspense Literary Fiction.”
Again, let me be clear: The Mister would be a dream success for any author who previously hadn’t written the bestselling book of all time or whatever. But if you are that author, and your publishing house has thrown gobs of money behind your book launch? And you’ve been on television all over the world to promote it? And done numerous print interviews?
You shouldn’t be getting your ass handed to you in your own category by Kindle Unlimited banging-my-billionaire-stepbrother books.
Love. Confusing. Irrational. Frustrating…Exhilarating.
Exciting and new! Come aboard! We’re expecting you! THE LOOOOOOOOVE BOOOOOOOAT!
I am madly, crazily, ridiculously
“In love with Josh!”
via GIPHY Image: Josh and Cher kissing at the end of Clueless
in love with the woman sitting opposite me.
My daily. Alessia Demachi.
Moss can stop referring to her as his “daily” at any point here. First of all, we already know that Demelssia was his cleaning lady. We were there. And our memories are not so short that we’ve forgotten. This no longer feels like a necessary detail. It’s beginning to feel like this is how Moss views her: an employee first. And that would work for me if they were still in a boss/employee situation, but they’re not. It feels like James is trying to coast on a workplace romance dynamic that isn’t there because they’re not in the workplace, and it ends up feeling classist and weird.
Moss goes on to recount incidents that have taken place to lead us to this point. Things that we didn’t actually see on the page, but it’s okay because now we’re being told they happened differently than they were written:
I’ve felt like this since I first laid eyes on her standing in the my hallway clutching a broom. I remember how disconcerted I was…how angry. How the walls closed in on me and I had to escape because I didn’t understand the depth of my feelings.
When our hero and heroine first meet, Demelssia thinks that Moss is angry. He described himself as “bemused” and “unsettled,” but he takes care not to appear angry. He gets “frustrated” and “annoyed” at her, but James took great pains not to describe him as angry in his POV. He only appeared angry to us via Demelssia’s POV. So, he’s describing the situation as though he has read her part of the story.
I love her. That’s why I went after her when she fled to Brentford. That’s why I brought her here. To protect her. I want her to be happy. I want her with me.
Here’s the thing: it’s really hard to retcon your hero’s motives into something romantic when they were previously, “I’ll rescue her from kidnappers and then she’ll be sure to fuck me!” Especially when you’ve stated those motives in the text more than once.
It’s a revelation.
Fuck. I hate personal growth, too, Moss. But I have to point out that “It’s a revelation” is sneaking in from Fifty Shades of Grey and its spin-off duology. Everything was “a revelation” in those books.
And I know so little about her.
Okay, but that’s not your fault. There isn’t much to know.
I’m just. I’m sorry, I have to backtrack a little here. How has he fallen in love with her? How did he fall in love with her the moment that he laid eyes on her in his hallway? They’ve had very, very little interaction at all, even this far into the book. They didn’t even meet until four chapters in. And he’s fantasized about her sexually, but when he was doing that, there was never any fantasy about who she is as a person. Just, oh, I want to fuck her, gross, she doesn’t dress like the sexy woman I meet at bars, oh dear, what am I to do. So now, he’s saying he doesn’t know much about her and it’s like…bro. You know:
- That she was trafficked
- That she was abused
- That she’s really super poor
- That she doesn’t want to throw away rotten boots because they’re from home
- That her grandmother was English
- That her grandmother had a best friend/pen pal from Poland
- That she plays piano
- That she’s good at chess
- That she has synesthesia
- That she’s plagued by nightmares
- That she allegedly has a sense of humor that the reader doesn’t get to see but you can
- That she went to college
- That she taught English (inexplicably)
- That she can escape from kidnappers
- That she thinks her home country is shitty
- That she doesn’t want to be paid for sex
- That she’s shy about sex stuff
And good news, that’s ALL THERE IS TO KNOW! There isn’t anything else going on with her! I mean, I really feel like you know more about Demelssia than most people know about their cleaning staff. And really, way more than most people know about someone after like, a couple of weeks of casual acquaintance and a weekend away.
I’ve fallen in love with my cleaner.
Just in case you forgot he’s banging a peasant.
And now she’s finally opening up to me–but in spite of all I’ve done, she’s still afraid. I’ve not done enough.
Another ugh moment. The stuff he’s done isn’t that different from the stuff the kidnappers did, to be honest. He took her away from her home, didn’t tell her where she was going, prettied her up…he just did it in a different way. Demelssia is still being dragged around on the whims of a man she doesn’t know and who has power over her. It doesn’t matter if the intentions are different because Demelssia’s trauma isn’t going to linger on the fine details. The situations are just gonna feel the same.
She tells him she didn’t mean to be a “kill buzz” and bring the mood down, and he’s like, that’s okay, you didn’t, and his stomach growls and they laugh about it and he’s like, oh good, her sense of humor is back. Then we go into Demelssia’s POV and she’s like, wow, it’s so weird that I was running from danger and it brought me to him, or whatever, and how her grandmother would approve of his table manners and that his eyes are the color of the Drin river back home. Go look up pictures of the Drin. It really is like, super green.
She never expected to fall in love.
Love is for fools, her mother used to say.
I’m super confused about her mother. So, here’s the deal. Demelssia’s mother’s mother was a modern woman from England, right? She married an Albanian man and…raised a super conservative daughter who fits completely into the super conservative culture of the country? From what we understand in the text, Demelssia’s English grandmother was the type of woman who would smuggle books, an act of radical rebellion. She never raised her daughter to be, IDK…anything other than a slut-shaming traditionalist? She never thought, ah, my granddaughter is being beaten by my son-in-law, I better step in or try to get her and my daughter out of the country? I’m just not getting this dynamic at all.
She’d like to make her home with him. Permanently. But she knows it’s not possible.
Why? Why is it not possible? Elaborate. Because right now, just having the heroine go, “There is an obstacle to our love!” isn’t enough. Show us what that obstacle is. Show us why she thinks she could never be with him forever. Honestly, this whole thing seems so fucking backward. Moss, the love-’em-and-leave-’em playboy is the one going, “Well, I had sex with her, now I have to marry her,” and Demelssia, the men-and-women-can’t-hold-hands-unless-they’re-married virgin is the one going, “sex doesn’t mean we’re going to be together forever,” and these things are BACKWARD and MY BRAIN HURTS because there is NO EXPLANATION AS TO WHY EITHER OF THEM HAVE THESE ATTITUDES WHEN THEIR CHARACTERIZATIONS ARE COMPLETELY OPPOSITE.
So, they go to Tesco and get the ingredients for Demelssia to cook Moss dinner:
[…]tavë kosi, her father’s favorite dish. She hopes Maxim will like it.
Again, what is happening here?! Earlier, comparison between Moss and her abusive father were (rightfully) negative, but now she’s like, oh, I’ll cook him my father’s favorite food! Why? Why would the memory of her father be something she wants to apply to her love interest when that very situation upset her before?! DID NO ONE READ THIS BOOK BEFORE THEY JAMMED IT INTO THE PUBLISHING MACHINE AND HIT THE SWITCH?!
Demelssia thinks about Magda and Michal.
It’s Sunday, so Michal will probably be doing his school homework or online gaming, and Magda will be cooking or talking to her fiancé, Logan, via Skype, or maybe she’s packing for their move to Canada.
New headcanon: Magda’s Canadian boyfriend, Logan, is Wolverine.
But seriously, Demelssia, do you really think that things have just returned to normal for your friends? Just a couple of days after being put on lockdown with a private security detail because of threat from a violent, international trafficking operation? Things are hunk dory? Business as usual?
Alessia hopes they are safe.
She has a passing thought that maybe later, she’ll ask Moss if he can find out if her friends are like, alive or whatever, and then it’s time to talk about…
“What is this music?” she asks.
“It’s from the soundtrack of Arrival.“
Yup. Magda and Michal get a whole paragraph before we jump into basically half a page about the music from Arrival. And this is a nit I’m required to pick, as a theater geek kid. It’s from the score of Arrival, not the soundtrack. And I know this, because it is very, very important to impassioned drama club high schoolers to know the difference between a soundtrack, a score, a cast recording, and concept album.
“Have you seen it?”
Yeah, that was the in-flight movie on her harrowing trafficking journey, Moss. She loved it. Can’t wait to see the unedited version.
What the fuck is even happening at this point? Demelssia thinks he’s brooding about something, so she’s like, are you mad at me and he’s like, why would I be mad at you, and sorry, Moss, but “Are you mad at me?” is something you’re going to hear a lot if you want to get with someone who has been abused. That, and “Sorry.”
Wanna see the most hilarious, like, obviously I-don’t-want-to-scroll-up-and-fix-it-ah-fuck-it-I’ll-just-add-a-line-and-nobody-will-notice editing fixes I’ve ever seen?
“Is there any food you don’t eat?” she asks, and wishes she’d found out before they went shopping.
I would lay money that this is exactly what happened:
Manuscript: “Is there any food you don’t eat?” she asks.
Editor: Isn’t that something she should find out before they go shopping?
E.L. James: “Is there any food you don’t eat?” she asks, and wishes she’d found out before they went shopping.
Honestly, the only way I can tell that any of her books have ever been edited is specifically because of these transparent moments where you can practically see the editor’s comments with your own eyes because the fix is so bad.
Time for more English rage! Moss tells Demelssia that he went to boarding school.
But Alessia’s knowledge of boarding schools is limited to Enid Blyton’s Malory Towers, a favorite book series of her grandmother.
Demelssia, the part-time English teacher/university student/granddaughter of an Englishwoman has read a series of English children’s books.
Think about who children’s books are written for and what they are meant to encourage.
Literacy? Fluency in language?
Again, I beg of you, tell me, what even is happening here?
They get back to Sexington Manor (which is what I’m calling it from now on because I made myself laugh when I thought it up) and Moss has a minor breakdown over where he should put the clothes he bought her.
I put them in the spare bedroom, then change my mind and place the bags in the walk-in wardrobe in my room. I want her in here with me.
I’m tangling myself in knots. I don’t know how to behave with her.
Sitting down on the bed, I put my head in my hands. Did I have a game plan before we got here?
I’m dying. Like, laughing so hard that tears are rolling down my face. The thought of something so inconsequential as where you should put down some shopping bags being this dramatic is just killing me. I’m imagining the movie version of this. Like, the dramatic, suspenseful music swelling and all kinds of dramatic, quick camera cuts like that scene in The Jury where Gerard Butler’s character falls off the wagon. Just that level of stress and acting out. That’s what gets me about E.L. James’s books. It’s just like, every god damn little thing is so dramatic, but then big stuff is like, “It was very, very sad, now let’s move on,” or some bullshit. Like, the fact that his brother recently died, he fucked his sister-in-law, he’s trying to rescue someone from kidnappers, all that stuff is background noise when compared to…THE SHOPPING BAG CONUNDRUM.
He’s all like, should I tell her that I love her, what does she feel for me, etc.
She’s here with me.
That means something, surely?
I mean. You drove her there. She can’t really leave. She doesn’t even have a fucking clue where she is, probably.
She could have stayed with her friend, but that would have meant those gangsters resturning and finding her.
Also, you basically made her go with you.
I was her only option. She has nothing. How could she go on the run?
There you go. You finally figured out why it’s actually unethical to be boning this woman you pretty much kidnapped yourself. It’s not going to stop you from boning her, but at least you had a split-second of self-awareness.
So, finally, he lands on the subject of immigration and the fact that her grandmother was English and oh, hey, that might do something.
Maybe that will help.
Fuck. I don’t know.
What else could I do?
I could marry her.
You could also just get on a website and look up the grandma thing like I did. It took like, zero dollars and there was no paperwork.
He can’t get married to Demelssia, you see. For it simply isn’t done.
It would freak my mother out. For that reason alone, it’s worth popping the question. Tom’s words from our night at the pub come back to me: You know, now that you’re the earl, you’ll need to provide an heir and a spare.
I could make Alessia my countess.
But wouldn’t the ton be scandalized?
I don’t even know if she has feelings for me.
I could ask her.
I roll my eyes. I am going round and round in circles. The truth is, I need to find out more about her. How could I ask her to be my wife? I know where Albania is on the map,
No, you don’t.
and that’s about it. Well, I can put that right, now.
I drag my phone out of my pocket and open Google.
Moss has officially done more research in his story that the author did for his story.
There’s a little section break and then Moss has done so much research about Albania, it’s gotten dark and his phone’s battery is dying. What has he learned about Albania?
It’s a fascinating place, part modern, part ancient, with a turbulent history. I’ve found Alessia’s hometown. It’s in the northeast, nestled among mountain ranges and a few hours’ drive from the capital. From all I’ve read, it does appear that life is more traditional in that region.
So…you looked it up on Wikipedia? It took that long?
Now, I’m still stuck on how researching Albania is going to somehow uncover how one specific Albanian feels about him in a romantic way, but sure, let’s just pretend that it was a constructive decision and go downstairs to the kitchen with him. Demelssia is cooking the lamb casserole thing her dad likes. Moss asks if she wants help.
“No. This is my thank-you. Would you like to drink?”
I laugh. “Yes, I would like a drink. Do you mind that I’m correcting your English?”
“No. I want to learn.”
“‘Would you like a drink?’ is what we say.”
She was going to university to learn English. She taught English informally. English is the language her grandmother spoke and read to her throughout childhood. She reads English books and watches American TV.
And she needs Moss’s help to learn the difference between a preposition and an article like it’s never come up before.
He tells her that he read about Albania and he’d like to know more about life in her home town. If you would also like to know more, I guess you need to Google it, too because James doesn’t think it’s important enough to waste time on:
Maybe it’s because she’s distracted while cooking supper, but she finally opens up and starts to describe the house she lived in with her father and mother. It’s beside a vast lake, surrounded by fir trees….And while she’s telling me, I watch and marvel at how she moves about behind the counter with such ease and grace, as if she’s been cooking in this kitchen for years.
Blah blah blah, she’s “finally” opening up, but the reader doesn’t need to hear anything about her life. What’s important is that we know how Moss feels about the way she looks when she’s cooking.
We hit the age thing again as she tells him stuff E.L. James remembered from that one book she flipped through before she opened a new Word document and really went to town:
“So you don’t drive?”
“No,” she answers as she lays the table for us.
“Does your mother drive?”
“Yes. But not often.” She smiles when she sees my consternation. “You know that most Albanians did not drive until the mid-1990s. Before the fall of the communists. We had no cars.”
Again, we’re running into the age issue. Demelssia doesn’t drive…because people didn’t drive until after the fall of communism. But that was the mid-nineties, and Demelssia is twenty-two or twenty-three, again, I don’t give a shit about looking. I know I’m in the ballpark. I’m thirty-eight. This explanation would make more sense for someone my age. Demelssia couldn’t possibly remember an Albania that was car-less due to communist rule.
Also, if E.L. James is your very most favorite writer and you wish you could write books just like hers? It’s really simple. What you do is think of a story. Then think of all the things in the story that are important. Then you throw all those in the trash and concentrate on shopping, going out to eat, and what communist Albania was like. Heroine talking about her childhood memories that probably tie into her characterization as a survivor of child abuse? Fuck that, gloss right over it. Focus instead on cramming as many unnecessary details about what your heroine’s country of origin was like before she was even born. That way, people will know you did the research!
Demelssia asks Moss if she can call Magda, so we go to her POV for that conversation HA HA HA no, we stay in his POV while he watches her talk on the phone to Magda:
Unconsciously, she winds a lock of hair that’s escaped from her plait around her fingers as she tells Magda about the sea and her impromptu dip in it yesterday.
Again, the heroine is talking to the only friend she has, who is under threat of some horrible fate from an Albanian crime cartel or something but none of that is more important than hearing Moss think about marrying her again.
Alessia laughs again, and her voice changes, becoming softer…sweeter. She’s talking to Michal, and I know from her tone that she’s exceptionally fond of him. I shouldn’t be jealous–he’s a kid–but maybe I am? I’m not sure I appreciate this new and unwelcome feeling.
Well, I’m not sure I appreciate having to hear you get jealous of a fourteen-year-old because he’s talking on the phone to your girlfriend but apparently that’s what’s gonna happen instead of any insight into Demelssia’s thoughts during this phone conversation.
Demelssia hangs up and she and Moss talk about how Magda and Michal are doing and how they’re going to be moving soon, etc. and Moss offers to buy her a phone and she’s all, no, that’s too much, and you know he’s gonna do it, anyway.
Hey, are we going to get her POV again? Why yes. Of course, we are.
When it’s time to serve dinner.
So, anyway, he obviously loves the food and he tells her she can cook any time and she thinks about how she’d like that and we go back to his POV.
The most important thing in this scene that we need to see from her POV is whether or not he likes the meal she cooked him.
We talk and drink and eat. I ply her with wine and questions. Many questions. About her childhood. School. Friends. Family. Reading about Albania has inspired me. Sitting across from Alessia is inspiring, too; she’s so full of life. Her eyes are shining and expressive as she talks.
None of what she talks about with regard to her friends and family matter, though. We skim over that and go straight into dialogue about how Albania is traditional but the capital is becoming more modern, how she has read a lot of books and watched Netflix and HBO, that they can get BBC World Service on the radio, and how she plays piano gigs on the side. When we finally reach something about her father, her mood changes and I honestly think we’re going to just jump straight into another sex scene, rather than get any background about her at all. Instead:
“Would you like to go back?”
Her eyes widen with fear. “No. I cannot. I cannot.” Her tone is a hushed, rushed whisper, and the fine hairs on my neck stand on end.
She remains mute, but I want to know. I press her. “Is it because you don’t have a passport?”
“Then why? Was it that bad?”
She screws her eyes shut and bows her head as if ashamed. “No,” she whispers. “It’s because…it’s becasue I am betrothed.”
She knows “betrothed” but not “truck”.
That’s the hook where the chapter ends.
My Impression So Far: My family has this big Easter egg hunt every year. The kids race around outside to get candy and little toys and eggs with money in them. While they’re doing that, there’s always a kid who goes off chasing a frog or something instead and completely abandons their original objective.
E.L. James has the storytelling instincts of the frog kid.