* This review originally appeared at Love In The Margins.
In the interest of disclosure, I follow Megan on Twitter and have done since before she was published. (Now that I'm reviewing her books she no doubt regrets that.) The beginning of If The Shoe Fits is brilliant. Then the clock strikes midnight. Well, at least for me. I think many of my issues with Sarah and Devon are unlikely to bother other readers.
Sarah James is a Hermetically Sealed Heroine. And yet, I didn't hate her. She was a believable twenty something virgin instead of an improbable one. Having decided she's ready for a fling, Sarah offers Devon a weekend of no strings sex while they both attend a wedding. The opening chapters are light and fun. Sarah joins the promiscuous world and Devon marvels at the freedom a plain speaking woman holds. I was thinking "I'm going to love, love, love this story" even as I was reading it. Sarah is neither plus size nor thin. She makes casual references to her size without being overly focused on it. As a woman working in fashion, her curvier figure could have been truly annoying (if mishandled) but Mulry wisely leaves it on the sidelines. As the wedding weekend ends, Sarah returns to her everyday life. This is where we start to unravel.
Sarah has handled her sexual awakening well. She is more aware of how she may have been ignoring signals from interested men in her life. She is more aware of what attracts her and what she wants for her future. Devon's response to his emotional awakening is anger. He blames Sarah for his uncontrolled feelings and he lashes out. While Sarah wisely drops him, Devon never really deals with the source of his anger and jealousy. It remains at the fringes of their relationship in a way I wasn't comfortable with. When she should be moving on, Sarah obsesses. Devon's utterly unacceptable actions are excused and reassembled. Sarah's grandmother talks about passion and fire. Devon talks about jealousy and possessiveness. No one talks about domestic violence but what happened between Sarah and Devon is a huge warning sign. Sarah allows attraction to overcome self protection. I badly wanted Mulry to surprise us all with a left turn into a new hero for Sarah. Instead Sarah's secondary love interest turns into a Helpful Friend as everyone on the canvas conspires to reunite this now dysfunctional couple.
Before Devon our Sarah was frank, open and focused. After Devon she's a bit of a mess. She devolves into a weeper who manipulates situations nonverbally. At three different points I wanted Devon and Sarah to just talk to each other instead of everyone else. The passage of time becomes arbitrary. At one point Sarah asks family to come from Paris to London and it takes a week to happen. The family in question is not employed. They could have been there by dinner, or the next day. Without a reason for the delay, without a reason for Devon not to try and contact Sarah, the time frame feels very artificial.
Back on the positive side, the side characters are distinctive and interesting. Mulry has an intriguing subplot started with a sexually ambiguous sibling that is either going to crash spectacularly or make her name in the field. I don't see a middle ground and I can't wait to see how it falls. Family relationships are heavy handed yet also refreshing in their refusal to hit genre conventional marks. There are no villains here, only flawed people finding their way. In that context I could have been moved to root for Devon and Sarah. As the book ends they're happy for now, but I don't think it's forever. Sarah's mired in that first mad love where you excuse anything for another hit of the drug. Devon's doing the bare minimum. He needs therapy, stat.