Melissa Pimentel, The One That Got Away (2017)
Since I’ve been trying to read more contemporary fiction, this new release looked like it had some potential, as well as being the perfect tie-in for Austen in August. Described as a modern take on Persuasion, it concerns Ruby Atlas, a successful New York advertising executive, who is taking a trip to England to attend her sister’s wedding. There she will meet her ex-boyfriend of ten years ago, and the book’s alternating past-and-present chapters recall the circumstances of their relationship, their breakup, and their potential future.
In outline it’s a pleasant enough tale of love found and lost and found again, but the resemblance to Persuasion was slim. I personally would not update Anne Elliott to make her a New Yorker or have her work in advertising — too brash and superficial for her quiet, sensitive character. Nor does the transformation of the serious, patient Captain Wentworth into a slacker-bartender-turned-software-whiz make much sense. The secondary characters — Ruby’s wheeler-dealer father who lost his real estate empire in the crash of 2008, her hyperactive sister who insists on being married in a castle — also bear a passing resemblance to their counterparts, but are not portrayed with the biting wit of the original, and Ruby readily forgives them all their foibles. This softening of what is really a very unpleasant family may make for a nicer resolution, but also a blander and more forgettable one.
I don’t want to be too nit-picky about parallels, though; I don’t think an update needs to be slavishly beholden to its original. What if the book is considered on its own, without reference to Persuasion? For me, the disgustingly over-the-top wedding scenario was more irritating than amusing, and Ruby’s horrible sister Piper never got the smack she deserved. I also never came to understand Ruby and Ethan’s chemistry — other than being told repeatedly they had really hot sex, yawn — enough to want them to get back together; there seemed no reason for Ruby not to go with the attractive Brit who started to court her, which might have led her down more interesting paths. The unremarkable, slang-and-swearword-heavy language also did not sit well with me, along with the constant stream of pop-culture references. This is something that often bugs me in contemporary fiction, a lazy way of locating us in time and place.
If you find the excess of American-style weddings hilarious, and can never get enough of tales of young women trying to make it in New York, you might still enjoy The One That Got Away. I really wanted to like it, especially because I requested it for review, and it did sound like a fun idea. But in all honesty I have to say the characters and the style of humor just did not click for me, and in a romantic comedy that’s essential.
What’s your favorite Austen novel or update? Have you read Persuasion, or any spin-offs?
Published by St Martin's in 2017
Format: Hardcover from Publisher
A copy was received for review purposes from the publisher. No other compensation was received, and all opinions expressed are my own.