Do I Know You? by Emily Wibberley and Austin Siegemund-Broka
January 24, 2023 by Berkley
Review by Melanie
Romance novels tend to follow a set of pretty rigid rules. There’s of course the requirement for a HEA (Happily Ever After) or, at the very least, a HFN (Happy For Now). The driving force of the plot must center on a romantic relationship, the focus being on these main characters (human or otherwise, 2 or more) and the journey they take to get to their eventual HEA or HFN.
Do I Know You? follows a slightly different road map. The 2 main characters, Graham and Eliza, are already married, and have been for 5 years. The book opens with the two of them driving to a very fancy resort for a week-long getaway, a stay gifted to them by Graham’s mother to celebrate their 5 year wedding anniversary.
The problem lies in the fact that Graham and Eliza have become strangers to each other in their own marriage, suddenly unable to communicate with each other with the same ease they’ve always been accustomed to. Graham, for reasons that never seem fully clear, feels unworthy of Eliza, continually shocked that such a bright and beautiful and vibrant woman like her would have ever chosen to be with him. Filled with self-doubt and a growing lack of confidence in himself, Graham is convinced that time is winding down on their marriage and that before long, Eliza will realize what he has long suspected, that she deserves better than he can give her.
Eliza, for her part, has had a big falling out with her younger sister and that emotional turmoil has bled into her marriage, causing her to pull back and ultimately away from Graham, shutting him out and increasingly diminishing the emotional intimacy between them. They are not estranged, they don’t (to my knowledge) sleep in separate bedrooms at home, but they have become strangers to each other, their marriage showing cracks of discontent and unease. It’s both a marriage on the verge of being in big trouble plus a very loose version of a second chance romance.
So these two fresh-faced babies (seriously, they are only twenty-four when they get married and so, neither one is even thirty by the start of this book) pack up their luggage along with their stilted conversations and awkward silences and make way for this fancy resort. When they get there, somehow through clerical or computer error, they learn that instead of just being in one suite, they have a double booking. It’s an odd play on the only one bed trope with two different suites (or rather, one suite and one regular room). Eliza persuades Graham that it might be good to have some separation for the duration of this trip and so Graham goes off to the fancy honeymoon suite and Eliza takes the regular room.
What I appreciated about Eliza is that despite her continued resistance to opening herself up emotionally, she understands that something has to change for this relationship to succeed. And Graham, to his credit, is unhappy with the plan but goes along with it because he too knows things need to change and furthermore, he is literally willing to do anything to make Eliza happy.
Due to certain events transpiring, Eliza, a voice actor and book narrator, hits upon this plan for the two of them to pretend to be strangers for a week. So, Eliza, a voice actor from San Diego becomes a travel planner from Boston, and Graham, the corporate lawyer, becomes a finance guy from Santa Fe. And these two spend the week leading up to their 5th wedding anniversary flirting with each other and getting to know each other all over again and dating each other and eventually sleeping with each other all under the guise of being completely different people.
It is confusing at times, for me and for Graham and occasionally for Eliza, to know what’s real and what’s fake, what’s authentically them and what’s them being in character. I think part of the problem is that when they become their alter egos, we’ve basically just met them and don’t know very much about who they really are either. However, it does work, helped by the dual POV that allows us inside both the real Eliza and Graham’s heads.
One of the things that I really enjoyed about this book is the male friendship that develops between Graham and David, a fellow guest at the resort. Male friendships, especially developing ones, are not all that commonly found in romance novels and I really enjoyed the one in this book, between kindergarten teacher David, a romantic at heart who is convinced he’s found his soulmate at this resort, and Graham, who is reeling from the fear that his marriage is at serious risk of dissolving. David is the perfect person to help Graham address his own personal issues in his marriage.
This was one of the most unique romance novels I’ve read in a long time. I’m going to be upfront, I don’t think this book is for everyone. And that’s ok, everyone has different tastes and likes what they like. I personally liked it enough to give it an A. I thought it was inventive, clever, and fun. It took two tropes that have been done (and done well) in various books and gave them both a fresh new twist with some unexpected plotlines. Usually, the journey in a romance novel is reading to figure out how the main characters fell in love and found their HEA. However, in this book, the romance bypasses the first question altogether, asking instead, what happens when love isn’t the thing that’s missing. Graham and Eliza are already in love, what they lack is that spark, that openness that connected them in the first place. It’s a risk to base a romance novel on that premise, but for what it’s worth, for me at least, it really worked.
This does sound very clever, Melanie! Thanks for sharing your thoughts; you’ve definitely piqued my interest. Off to get a sample….