I’ve discovered recently that the romances I like best are the ones that are about messed-up, broken people discovering love in spite of themselves, which is probably one of the reasons why I gravitated to Truly by Ruthie Knox.
The story follows May, a New York City transplant who recently turned down an engagement by stabbing her boyfriend with a lobster fork. (But in fairness, he kind of deserved it.) She hates the city, and wants nothing more than to return home to Wisconsin. But a series of unfortunate events leaves her without money or identification in a Manhattan sports bar, where she meets Ben. Ben is a former chef who lost his restaurant in his divorce. But that restaurant nearly cost him his health, between high blood pressure and anxiety issues. Now, as a rooftop beekeeper, he’s much more at peace—if not exactly happy.
Both of the leads here are incredibly broken in their own ways. May is a people-pleaser who has allowed others to dictate how she acts and feels about herself: she’s the plain one, the steady one, the ordinary one. Even after years away from the high-pressure restaurant business, Ben can barely control his temper, and he initially comes across as unlikeable and surly.
But the magic in this book is how they discover each other’s better selves. Underneath Ben’s surliness is a kind, compassionate heart, and when May stops trying to make everyone happy she becomes a confident, intelligent woman. It happens slowly, layers being peeled off, with one step back for every two steps forward.
The other thing I loved about this novel were its vivid, beautiful descriptions of New York City. I went to college in New York City, so the frenetic, overwhelming city has always had a special place in my heart. Early in the book, Ben sets out to make May fall in love with the city as he once did. Their half-touristy, half-city insider journey through New York reminded me a lot of Before Sunrise, the 1995 Ethan Hawke/Julie Delpy film about two young adults on vacation who fall in love while exploring Vienna. Knox gives New York City that same kind of beauty and magic.
But unlike the idealistic lovers of Sunrise, May and Ben are older, more seasoned, harder in a lot of ways. Their romance doesn’t have the ephemeral quality of Before Sunrise, but you also feel like whatever happiness they can get, they’ve really earned. It makes the story that much more triumphant.
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