by Kate Clayborn
I hide things. My feelings about things in my life, or in the lives of people I care about. I hide them in my letters, and I hide them when I’m talking about the weather or Frisbee or whatever other thing I fill up the space with—”
“I want to try that,” I say. “Being honest. Talking about the things that are difficult. When I hide them—they seem to come out in other ways, anyway.”
It always adds an extra level of interest and enjoyment when a book or movie is set in a heretofore unencountered setting or includes a character’s unusual profession or lifestyle/interest. It’s always a good thing to become educated about something and exposed to new things. And this one certainly did that. I’m not sure if “calligrapher” is a really viable profession in the real world, but that didn’t really matter to me. It was interesting and enlightening. To a point.
Meg is a designer of journals, house decor, and day planners. She is all into signs and letters and making them her own to reflect the persona of her client. She is really talented and as famous and in demand as a calligrapher can be. She used to design wedding invitations and programs. One time, upon meeting the groom of a bride for whom she was designing some wedding material, she recognizes “signs” that the marriage will be a big mistake. She is good at that. So, on a whim, she weaves the word “MISTAKE” into the intricate design, confident that it is well-hidden and would never be discovered. Because that would be bad. because she’s done it before. If her little habit was discovered…. Well. She forgets about it until a year later when the groom comes a-knockin’ at her door. She messed with the wrong groom. Reid is a math genius and savant who detects patterns and had discovered her hidden message. The couple mutually and amicably called off the wedding not only because of the message but because they truly were incompatible. But he is planning on leaving New York City soon and wanted to confront the harbinger of doom before he goes. How did she know? Why did she do it?
It turns out Meg is good at hiding in more ways than one.
Even though Meg is telling the story and indicates something has changed in her life, that something is not quite right, that there is some secret about her family, that her friendship with her best friend is fading, she, as the narrator, never outright tells us what is going on. What we know about her reveals itself in her actions, choices, and conversations. It did keep me intrigued. As we observe others’ behavior and ways through Meg’s eyes and what she tells us, we get the measure of the other characters, especially Reid and Lark.
We see that Meg is unable to engage fully with others and have honest close relationships because of her lack of self-esteem. She does not share what she truly thinks because she hates conflict and never wants to rock the boat. She puts on a mask of cheerful accommodation that hides her loneliness and troubles. At one point I thought she might be on the spectrum. Although the reader understands what is going on, we are not let in on what is behind it. Meg hides. Just past the point where I was starting to be impatient and her reticence started to seem coy, she finally starts to both reveal her secrets and make strides in being more open. This is due to her developing relationship with Reid, and their games with signs around New York which establishes a kinship. They have a lot in common. At that point, the book really picked up, because it had started to get bogged down for me. Once she started on her road to revealing more of herself, it was onward and upward from there. There are several crises that she has to navigate, but she is not derailed. I liked that.
Reid is likable and intriguing and their journey and romance are engaging. So strong character development, intriguing plot points, interesting secondary characters, witty and amusing narrative voice. What’s not to like?
The constant repetition of certain words and themes such as “serif” with or without the “sans”, “signs”, “Swoonsh” to describe Reid’s quirky smile, “blocked,” game playing, and the author’s need to describe Meg’s lettering and flourishes in excruciating detail was as bewildering as it was tedious. It was so unnecessary to what was going on with the plot and the character. Yes, I saw the symbolism, but it was like she fell in love with her own themes and fancies and wouldn’t let them go. The reader bedamned. It actually would have been great in a movie, where animated graphics could be employed. But not a book. Unless it was an illustrated book. I read this on kindle. Maybe the calligraphy aspects were more tolerable on paper?
All in all, this was a good read, but a strong editor could have made it a great one. Not quite 4 stars. But almost!
January 30, 2022