I’m a sucker for Marriage-in-Trouble romances
I just can’t resist the story of two (or more) people who find themselves at odds and have to fight and find a way back to each other. Of course, the trope has one big problem: how to create a conflict that is so believable that the following ice age between the spouses makes sense, and the reconciliation is so much sweeter. Maybe I just love the trope because I’m a sucker for angst, because finding a compelling, satisfying marriage-in-trouble romance is almost as hard as writing one.
To Have and to Hoax has been on my list for almost as long as it’s been out, but it was honestly always too expensive for me – so naturally I pounced when it popped up in Kindle Unlimited.
Violet: Just as stubborn as her husband, and with a short fuse to boot. Despite every single one of her friends suggesting that she just talk to James, she follows through with her scheme of faking a deathly illness, but sloppily. She doesn’t even ever research the illness, not even a cursory glance, despite allegedly being studious, well-read, and curious about everything. Almost as if she doesn’t really want to convince him at all. Otherwise, her plan to punish the husband who doesn’t trust her because he thought she manipulated him, by MANIPULATING him, seems not so compelling and well thought out.
James: Stubborn and hard to trust anyone after a childhood of neglect, he tends to be stupid first, refusing any acknowledgment of his responsibility in any conflict — the fault always lies with the other person. Any shortcoming on their side just proves to him that he was right not to trust them.
I wanted to shake them both, in turns and at the same time. Both are so thickheaded and childish in their refusal to confront the root of their conflict. Overcoming their own boneheadedness is a bigger challenge than reconciling with their spouse of five years.
What I love
Crafting a marriage in trouble romance around one big fight resulting from a misunderstanding, more or less, is hard. It has to make sense for their trust in each other to be so completely shattered. It has to make sense for Violet to reach the conclusion that faking a fatal illness is the way to go. And admittedly, it doesn’t always make sense. It helps that both were so very young when they married, and that James’ character struggles with trust issues so very hard. Their path back to each other is delicately crafted, and while they delight in tormenting each other, a little, their slow realization how much they enjoy it, and each other, is beautifully done. Even if their back and forth and their reasoning is not always convincing or coherent. The story still manages to tug on my heartstrings, and against all odds, I’m rooting for them, in between moments of doubt.
The writing style is beautiful and effortless and fun, and I laughed out loud several times, and cried a few tears here and there — both of which saved the book for me a bit.
What I missed
There were moments when things got too convoluted for me to follow the characters reasoning any longer — and no, I don’t mean the “she knows I know that she knows that I know” bits. There were moments when one of them got angry again and… I just didn’t understand why. I don’t have the longest fuse myself, I know how easy it is to get unreasonable, but these moments felt like they were construed just to keep the book going, because it could have been over at 60% otherwise. And I might have been known to do that myself, so I recognise the strategy well enough.
The tension was beautiful, even though sometimes the frustration won out.
All in all, I enjoyed this story immensely, and it’s one of the better estranged-spouses stories I’ve read, with a slow reconciliation that is wonderfully rewarding and a rocky road towards it that’s sometimes frustrating and sometimes hilariously absurd.
Because in some part of his heart he was still the small boy watching from a window as his father and brother went out for rides without him. He was still that boy, unable to trust that anyone’s love for him was unconditional and true.
- Estranged married couple
- Broken trust
- faked illness
- Bickering and Banter and playing tricks on each other