The earlier books in Lauren's Beautiful series has been noted for its strong alpha male leads. Secret proves a departure, with gorgeous but "prim" and "stodgy" British urban planner Niall Stella cast in the role of hero (5). Though our heroine, unrestrained, ebullient American Ruby Miller prefers to think of him as "steady" and "restrained," there is no question that the stiff Mr. Stella is just about the last guy one would ever imagine engaging in a friendly bout of flirting. Even so, Ruby's been nursing a fierce crush on the thirty-year-old recently-divorced VP, a crush seems destined to remain unrequited.
|Only one of the NYC spots in front of which Ruby|
takes a selfie...
Niall's personality isn't the only think holding him back, although growing up the quiet, introverted one amidst a large family of extroverts had definitely exerted its influence. Niall is also still trying to adjust to life after a sixteen-year relationship with the same woman, a relationship which he pretty much just went along with, and which he allowed to descend into boredom and even contempt with nary a protest. Not surprisingly, then, it is the female half of this relationship that does the majority of the heavy emotional lifting. Every time Ruby and Niall take a step forward, sexually, the inexperienced, logical Niall finds himself overthinking things, taking two steps back. The daughter of two psychologists, Ruby is used to talking about feelings, and isn't shy about sharing hers with Niall. But she also realizes that Niall's understanding of emotions is far different from hers, and that it will be her role to teach him more about how partners communicate. To Ruby (and to the reader), Niall seems more than worth it, if she can just crack open his layers and layers of protective shell. Patience will be the order of the day.
But as soon as she'd said it, I knew that being back with Niall would be just as good. I wanted Niall just as much as I wanted to work with Maggie. And for the first time since [plot spoiler deleted], I didn't feel embarrassed for it, or that I was betraying some inner feminist thread by admitting how deep my feelings were. If I went back to Niall, some days he would be my entire life. Some days school would be. Some days they would occupy the same amount of space. And that knowledge—that I could find balance, that maybe I did need to separate my heart from my head after all—loosened a tension that had seemed to reside in my chest for weeks now." (360).
Lauren's novel is told in the first person, but with alternating points of view, allowing readers into Niall's head so that we can understand his emotions, even if Ruby (and Niall himself) don't. Sherry Thomas, in contrast, confines her story solely to the heroine's first person POV. It's only after you reach the book's ending that you realize just how significant that POV choice is; allowing us only into narrator Evangeline Canterbury shapes the story, and how readers respond to it, un expected ways.
|You might be a bit wary, too, if you saw these|
headlights coming down a deserted road at you...
|Can you really trust a guy who lives in the|
world's most exclusive NYC apartment building?
Interestingly, many Goodreads reviewers have responded far more negatively to the emotionally-distant Eva than they did to the emotionally-repressed Niall, even though her emotional issues are conveyed far less directly, far more subtly, than are his. A man in need of training in the ways of emotion and communication (by a woman) is acceptable, even welcome, given how gendered emotional work is in our society. But when a woman is the one who is emotionally closed-off, well, that character is far less comfortable for readers who take it for granted that it is the woman, rather than the man, who is the one responsible for maintaining a romantic relationship's emotional health.
What other emotionally repressed romance characters can you recall from your own reading? Are emotionally-repressed men more common (and/or more beloved) than emotionally distant women?
Radio City: pixshark
Emotionally distant hearts: Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health
Tesla headlights: Tesla Motor Club
Gallery Books, 2015
The One in My Heart