Windy City Dweller
- Published on Amazon.com
Format: Kindle Edition
If you occasionally indulge in a guilty pleasure like a reality show – which usually has little to do with reality! – you’ll love this sparkling contemporary romance by Elizabeth Harmon. It’s almost as though the author pulled back the curtain to a reality show and let us peer inside.
Now imagine a good person, someone who’s insecure like most of us, plunked down into the middle of such a reality show cauldron. Her name is Hannah. She’s not comfortable being center-stage, she wants to help others thrive. She’s a book editor and passionate about her work. Hannah’s issue is that she’s elevated her boyfriend, Jack, above her own needs – like a lot of us women can do, unless we’re uber-confident and never make a mistake. Jack’s the center of her world and she’ll do anything to preserve the illusion of their relationship.
Eventually, though, that illusion becomes a sand castle swept away at shore. The reality show launches, Hannah meets handsome “Vlad the Bad,” a man who became a stripper because it was lucrative. But Vlad’s heart isn’t in the bumps and grinds. Stripping represents income, so he can follow his true dream, to write novels.
She’s an editor, he’s a writer – you know they’re fated – but malicious forces work against them, one being big bucks, and the other being blind ambition. Hannah and Vlad are surrounded by phonies who would throw their grandmother under the bus to get ahead. Ratings drive everything, and the producers edit footage to spike the drama. The meanest people look angelic, while the decent ones are “Franken-edited” to appear demonic or oafish. The show forces a cloying twosome and loves a huffy snit. But real intimacy is what happens between Hannah and Vlad, which has the potential to derail the show.
The cast of nasties around Hannah and Vlad feels legitimate, and that’s what makes the book so juicy. We all know people like this: the self-centered ones who cut in line or cut us off in traffic, or the imperious ones who play dirty politics at the workplace. They don’t care who they hurt.
Hannah starts out as agreeable and doubting herself, and clings to her illusion of Jack. The reality show nasties force Hannah to look at herself. After Vlad treats her with respect and encourages her, she realizes how much she’s sacrificed herself and her dignity and confronts Jack in an exhilarating way: “Don’t you dare lecture me, Jack Gordon. Not when you’ve spent the past nine weeks flaunting another woman in my face! A woman who acts like a paragon of virtue, but is as vicious and underhanded as they come.”
Vlad is quite the heartthrob, the atypical romance hero, sensitive, sensual and dimensional. The chemistry between he and Hannah is palpable, and so is the emotion.
The secondary characters brought out my inner Ninja. I’d gladly send Lorena Bobbitt after that slimy producer Cody deWylde. The other producer, Eric, redeems himself before he’s completely sucked into the black hole of self-centeredness. At one point, Eric says: “Unfortunately, if I want to be successful, I can’t have any friends.”
Some of the novel’s themes revolve around illusion – how we can create our own illusions idealizing people – and being true to who we really are, following our hearts, not money. Ultimately, we have to live with our own consciences.
The writing is smart, sophisticated and vibrant. Harmon masterfully spins words and they trickle like a waterfall – you’ll want to keep turning the pages to see what happens, plot-wise. Harmon’s also done her research on how reality shows are staged – it’s utterly credible, and the Puerto Rico setting is lush and gorgeous. It’s like you’re right there, ocean side, sipping on a mojito at the Smiling Shark, the cozy bar Hanna and Vlad frequent.
This story captivated me from beginning to end, and I devoured it in one day. My only nitpick about the book, is that the ending felt a little rushed, and loose ends were tied together a little too neatly. Maybe that’s because I didn’t want the story to end.
Harmon has exceptional talent as a storyteller and is definitely going places.