Have you ever found yourself in a rut? Nothing is going your way, everything in your life seems monotone and you are completely void of inspiration? Well, Graham and Eliza Cutler from Emily Wibberley and Austin Siegemund-Broka’s second-chance romance novel “Do I Know You?” understand that struggle perfectly.
“Do I Know You?” follows a married couple from San Diego as they embark on a romantic getaway at the Treeline Resort in Northern California to celebrate their five-year anniversary. This sounds like a wonderful vacation for a couple set on celebrating their love, right? Except Graham and Eliza’s marriage has been on the rocks for a while now, and they’re both getting tired of it. In an attempt to rekindle their spark, they unintentionally end up role-playing as Eliza, a vacation planner from Boston, and Graham, an investment banker from Santa Fe. Amid various ups and downs, they eventually find their way back to the reason they got married in the first place.
Wibberley and Siegemund-Broka’s newest romance is deliciously vague. While I will confess that I did not entirely detest my reading experience, the novel lacks the details and development that are necessary for the main plot to advance.
The novel opens with Graham and Eliza in the car on their way to their anniversary celebration. The opening words of the first chapter are literally “Say something.” Right off the bat, the reader gets a look into the novel’s main plot: something is off with Graham and Eliza’s marriage. What is not included, however, are necessary anecdotes detailing what their relationship looked like before they were in this rut. Instead of providing context, Wibberley and Siegemund-Broka jump right in, leaving the reader with a couple on the outs, but not knowing why. While we do get insight into their past later in the book — how they met on Hinge, the fact that their first date was in a coffee shop and how they seemingly got married “too fast” — it would have allowed for a more insightful reading experience if the details about the timeline of their relationship had been provided since the beginning.
As the story unfolds, Graham and Eliza jump into a role-playing of sorts once they arrive at the hotel. This was obviously unprecedented. They were both dreading this trip, given that the nature of their marriage during the past few months has been, as Eliza describes, “less unison, more collision.” And while the charade they have going on is at times entertaining, it gets a bit tiring when, all of a sudden, the subject of Graham’s apparent insecurities comes up. During one of the conversations they’re having, while they’re playing their respective roles, of course, Eliza inquires if the last woman Graham was with, ironically referring to herself, ever made him feel like he was less than. To this, Graham suddenly replied, “I think it’s just the way I see myself.” Although it is typical for subplot points to complement a novel’s larger picture, the way Graham’s insecurities were weaved into the plot was awkward.
Once the fact that Graham feels insecure within their relationship is revealed, a lot of the things he does before start to make sense. Graham is a lawyer, and he is constantly comparing events to what he thinks they would look like in the courtroom. At one point, he even compares his and Eliza’s fluctuating relationship to the experience of a lawyer after passing the bar exam. “Even once you’ve passed the bar, you’re required to earn credits of continuing legal education every few years. How is (our relationship) much different?” Graham explains. As I mentioned, it’s totally expected for romance novels to include side plots to layer a character’s arc. However, the way Graham was obsessed with his job to the point where he would compare it to his relationship with his wife was unsettling.
Similarly, an entirety of family-related subplots is presented as the novel progresses. It’s always nice to see depth beyond the main plot in romance novel protagonists, but both Eliza and Graham’s issues with their respective families could’ve been brought up in a neater manner. Eliza’s relationship with her sister Michelle is strained because of the time she got caught up at work and accidentally missed Michelle’s engagement party. Graham struggles with the picture-perfect relationship his parents lead and the pressure that puts on his relationship with Eliza. Both are very interesting takes on how their separate family dynamics may affect how they interact romantically, but they could’ve been elaborated on more methodically. The authors could have included flashbacks or an introduction to the family members’ perspectives — even if for a brief chapter — to explain their side of the story.
Lastly, there is an underlying resentment between the couple that I feel was not touched on throughout the novel. In the second chapter, it is explained that Eliza’s best friend Nikki is Graham’s best friend from when he went to college at UCLA. Graham does not hesitate to make this clear. “I’ve known Nikki longer than I’ve known Eliza. She was my friend first… when I introduced her to Eliza, Nikki didn’t need long to pick her new favorite. It was not me.” This obvious irritation on Graham’s part was not addressed at all as the novel went on, save the moments when Eliza appreciated his blossoming friendship with David, a kindergarten teacher they became friends with on the trip, from afar.
Despite the unseemly composition of the main character’s arcs, I cannot deny that there were moments throughout the book that had me giddy and excited. After all, I am a romance novel enthusiast, so, naturally, moments throughout the novel were going to be of enjoyment for me.
In spite of various shortcomings, it was entirely enamoring to see how Graham and Eliza fell for each other for a second time. There were a lot of romantic moments in the novel that evidence this, but the epitome of it, at least for me, was at the speed-dating-slash-wine tasting event they unintentionally attended. In keeping up with the game they were playing, every time they were instructed to switch tables, Eliza would veer back to Graham’s table and introduce herself as a new person until they ran out of fictional people to mentally craft and had to introduce themselves as each other. During this interaction, Eliza concluded that “Santa Fe Graham loves me. San Diego Graham loves me.” Even if they had to invent these elaborately fake personas to mend their bond, they knew that, in the end, their true love was everlasting.
Ever since they “chatted with each other on a dating app,” Graham and Eliza have felt the connection between them. They just don’t know how to salvage it now that it’s wavering. In an attempt to craft a beautiful second chance at love, Wibberley and Siegemund-Broka weave together a series of wholesome moments that almost hit the mark but fail to do so meaningfully.
Daily Arts Writer Graciela Batlle Cestero can be reached at email@example.com.