After completing an art degree at Berkley, James has found a job selling art in a gallery in San Francisco. He’s twenty-two, out, and living…sort of. Things take an unexpected turn when his nemesis, an artist name Turkish, makes an off-hand comment that sends James into a something of an existential crisis. To add insult to injury, James’ work has thrown him into almost daily contact with the very man he detests.
Turkish is a hot young photographer on the scene. Although rich in social currency, more discerning art aficionados might say he is bankrupt in the substance department. None of that bothers Turkish as long as he can pursue Truth through the medium of the photograph. With a showing slated for a San Fran gallery, Turkish finds himself working with a taciturn assistant who hasn’t fallen hook line and sinker for Turkish’s dazzle. Things get awkward fast when the photographer attempts to push home is point about Truth and finds out there’s only so much a lowly assistant can take before things reach the boiling point.
Overall, I found this book a fabulous read. It was a quick, 230-odd pages filled with quirky, fun characters. More importantly, those character’s felt real and relatable, even with the glamour evident in the life of those involved in San Francisco’s art scene.
This book is all about opposites. From a visual point of view, the author impresses the feeling of opposites through her descriptions of our two primary characters: James and Turkish. The former is thin and short with pale skin and blonde hair, while the latter has a decidedly middle-eastern flair (technically, I believe he’s first-generation American), curly dark hair and dark eyes to match. Personality-wise, James may act every inch the contained, mild-mannered gallery assistant he is paid to be. In reality, however, he is a man with sharply discerning tastes and is unafraid to let the vitriol roll–especially when he deems it richly deserved. Turkish, on the other hand, initially comes off as self-absorbed. He is, by turns, revealed to be a delightfully tender man with a fathomlessly deep heart.
Given this fabulous character material, it’s hard to imagine needing anything more! But more is exactly what the reader gets. The author not only has created beautifully complex characters that interact wonderfully with and against each other, she has given us a setting with meaning. Perhaps it’s because Spettro comes from an artsy background herself, but the writing put me right there in the galleries with the artists talking about art and not being pretentious about it. Even the arty names that get dropped weren’t done so as to make the casual reader feel excluded from the setting. The supporting cast flesh out the details to create a full world that feels genuine for twenty-somethings getting themselves established in a big city.
To return to the opposites theme, this book is an enemies-to-lovers story. Of course, the enemies in question are James and Turkish. From the get-go, Spettro does a fantastic job establishing the animosity James developed almost immediately for Turkish and portraying the self-important wankery Turkish exhibits. The inauspicious beginning only goes downhill for James from there and does so to spectacular effect. I thought the way the author handled the story once James and Turkish exploded with Peak Enemy was wonderfully human. I also liked that it was one of the supporting characters that subtly started the ball rolling on the “to-lovers” part of “enemies-to-lovers.”
The lovers portion of the book is amazingly tender and, again, just so damn human. This isn’t one of those stories where the enemies just suddenly have an epiphany and fall in love, nor are they brought together by some kind of disastrous experience. Instead, we see it happening in stages with a lot of doubt and incredulous feelings–mostly because our narrator is James, so we have a front seat view to the drama as he experiences it. His thoughts before, during, and after falling for his enemy strike me as very realistic. Let’s not forget Turkish, either. Like I said, the character starts off deservedly on James’ shit-list and it’s all kinds of warm fuzzies to see the real Turkish come shining through as he tries to woo James.
My two criticisms for this story are simple and not at all deal breakers. One is that I wish we’d seen more of the James and Turkish as enemies dynamic. Although we definitely had sufficient page-time to establish the enemies side of the trope, I admit would have liked a longer build up to critical mass.
The other one happens during the lovers side of the trope when they have to deal with a kind of Drama Bomb of Betrayal. While I certainly didn’t mind watching our couple deal with the fallout, it was the one aspect of the book that kind of whispered “cop out” to me. Not to give away too much detail, but part of the way James handles the situation just feels less genuine than the rest of the story. But even this is redeemed by a spectacularly poignant (to me, anyway) line Turkish gives.
I would recommend this book to absolutely anyone, but especially so if you like enemies to lovers or interracial relationships. Or if you dig books with relationships that are based on mutual trust and equality between partners with a bit of drama thrown in.
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