The Man Plan by Elise K. Ackers
A sweet romance with a delightful banter between the main characters, let down somewhat by the inability to fully explore their emotional conflicts.
This review is part of the Australian Women Writers Challenge. Click here for a list of books I’ve read so far.
Still reeling from her father’s death, Cora is determined to find The One by Christmas. Her downstairs neighbour, Matt, is disbelieving and then amused at her determination to nab herself the right man. From staging car trouble, to internet dating, to chatting up men at juice bars, basketball games, meat markets and trams, Cora is undeterred in her quest. Too bad Matt isn’t in the running, though, because the more time she spends with Matt, the more Cora wonders if any man will ever measure up to him.
Cora and Matt’s initial meeting starts off a little awkwardly. Elise K. Ackers tries just a little too hard to simulate instant chemistry between the two characters, and the humour is somewhat forced. But as the story settles into its own, Cora and Matt fall into a charming rhythm:
When Matt opened his front door and feigned surprise to see her, it made her laugh. And she enjoyed his expression when he noticed the notepad, Ugg boots, old tracksuit pants and beanie.
‘They’re the worst pyjamas ever,’ he declared.
‘These are my relationship pyjamas.’
He leaned against the door and waved a hand, palm up. ‘I’m afraid to ask.’
‘This is what I wear once a man loves me. After I’ve lured him in with sexy lingerie, of course. Then one day, bam. Comfort clothes.’
By then end, I may have shed a tear as they struggled to get their happy ending.
Of the two protagonists, Matt’s voice is the more compelling. He’s the larrikin you went to uni with, work with, or shared a house with in your youth. He’s constantly taking the piss out of Cora’s shenanigans without being cruel:
His lips twitched. ‘The woman who doesn’t believe in fate believes in Superman.’
‘I don’t believe in him!’
‘You just want him.’
Hell with it. ‘Who doesn’t?’
He laughed. ‘I dunno. If the man can’t feel a nuclear explosion, surely he can’t have an orgasm?’
Cora handles it well, too, and is all the more charming for it. She calls him on his own foibles, and the gradual progression of their relationship is almost too slow, because the reader gets there way ahead of them.
The weakness of this story is in the characters’ internal conflicts. Ackers struggles to show these issues through the characters’ actions and often resorts to internal monologues to explain why Matt feels unable to be what Cora needs, and why Cora is desperate not to be alone. There’s a lot of room for subtlety, and this book has keeper potential but doesn’t quite get there. The lack of subtlety is evident in other parts of the narrative—Matt wants to ‘save’ Cora, the damsel in distress, instead of just thinking he might want to help her fix a flat tyre, and Cora is needlessly defensive about her dream: ‘Feminists might hate me for saying it, but I need a man.’
But if you can skim the problematic parts, there’s enough in the story to enjoy. Cora is a little too earnest, but she means well—think Izzie in Grey’s Anatomy—and Matt is fun if a little slow to see what’s right in front of him. All the love scenes are off-page, but when Ackers allows her characters to feel the sexual and emotional tension, it’s all gooey reader feelings.
Her hand found her mouth. ‘I’m being an idiot, aren’t I?’
‘No, Cora. You’re just taking a breath before you take the biggest chance of your life.’
Yay or nay?
This is a sweet romance with a delightful banter between the main characters, but it’s let down somewhat by the clumsy way in which their emotional conflicts are portrayed.
Who might enjoy it: Romance readers looking for a heroes who sound like real blokes
Who might not enjoy it: Readers looking for extreme angst
A reading copy of this book was generously provided by the publisher via NetGalley.