After mutually commiserating over their extreme stress levels and near complete lack of time to actually be the best friends they are supposed to be, lawyers Blake and Xander hit Las Vegas—and wake up married to each other. The scenario is not exactly ideal for either man, albeit for wildly different reasons. First, Blake is very much in the public eye and—for the decade-plus that Xander has known the man—undeniably straight. Then there’s Xander who’s been in love with Blake since their college days, but long ago resigned them to friends so although on the surface, this turn of events is everything he thought he wanted, there was the sinking feeling it was real.
Yet even after a night of hard drinking and diminished inhibitions, the matter can’t be simply resolved by dissolving the union. For one thing, neither Blake nor Xander likes losing. For another, getting divorced could be more damaging to Blake’s high-power DA-tracked career than the fact that he married another man. They decide to give it a go and, honestly, they’ve already had practice cohabiting as law school students. How different could this be?
As days turn into weeks, the ramifications of the choice they made start to play out. Despite all the twists and turns they encounter and the secrets they uncover, they manage to rebuild their friendship. That goes a long way towards keeping up their rouse, but each man begins to have doubts as to whether or not this is really a viable long-term solution. Xander knows Blake’s not really gay; Blake knows Xander’s just trying to help out. Except, somewhere along the way, they started to see each other as more than just a friend but as a true partner…all the need is the courage to admit that freely to each other.
The “woke up married” trope is one I quite enjoy. Legally Wed makes an attempt at punching up the scenario by making the two principles friends, one gay and one straight. In a nutshell, I liked this story. It contains a lot of drama and emotional baggage and, more importantly, we get to explore that through our characters. Some elements feel a little drama-llama-esque, but nothing feels inexplicably gratuitous. Some of the social issues that get a passing mention really stuck out to me—through they certainly didn’t ruin the story, they did make me roll my eyes mega-hard.
On the emotional baggage front, we have Blake on one side side with his estranged family that not even his best friend Xander (as in they went to law school and roomed together, took a trip to Vegas together, and thought it was worthwhile to give legally bound significant-other-hood a serious go kind of literal best friend) knows about…until Blake’s brother calls with some bad news. In fact, Wilde clearly establishes Blake as a seemingly only child, so when there was a reference to Blake’s brother, I immediately thought it was a continuity error. Turns out, it was just a plot twist. I’m not sure how I feel about those kinds of twists because my first inclination is to think “poor editing!” but not much I can do about that. Either way, we learn Blake is estranged from his family, but he and Xander go together to help out with the emergency and things got heavy all around. What’s key about a passage like this is that it works towards showing the reader Blake’s true colors. I for one think this is rather important in leading the reader towards accepting Blake’s transition from straight to not so straight.
For Xander, he was actually involved with another man before waking up married to Blake. I enjoyed how Wilde played that card because it could have gone to one of two extremes: either Xander was deeply in love with this other guy (because he knew he’d never have Blake?!) or Xander would drop his man like a hot potato. This particular thread unravels with much enjoyable nuance, though it doesn’t take up an great deal of on-page space. I would have liked seeing a little more up-frontness on Xander’s part about having a partner when he wakes up with Blake. Regardless, Wilde’s treatment of this plot thread helps show Xander as more than just a man pining for another man. Plus, we get the added benefit of Xander’s not-so-singleness introducing some question marks for Blake because, although Xander breaks it off with the other guy lickety split, Blake is still very aware that there IS another guy. So Blake starts to wonder just how much Xander’s sacrificing so Blake doesn’t lose face at the office.
In fact, as much as this is a wake-up-married kind of story, I think the fact that Blake and Xander are friends to begin with, we spend more of the story exploring their existing relationship rather than having one inexplicably develop between two strangers. Some of these episodes aren’t as well developed as the secret family and other lover threads, but they don’t feel like padding to make the book a little longer. Another example revolves around Xander’s job and LGBT discrimination and both Xander’s and Blake’s reactions to the bigotry. The thread barely scratches the surface of this tumultuous real-world issue, but it does serve to reinforce the idea that Xander is dedicated to making this work and Blake is worried he asking too much from his friend.
There were a couple of points that rubbed me the wrong way for, shall we say, “sociopolitical” reasons.
1) Xander and Blake are married and living in a new apartment together. Their new home isn’t public transport accessible, which is how Xander was commuting previously, so Blake offers to chauffeur Xander to and from work. For Xander, this means he’s got be mindful of how late he works. Here’s how the passage reads:
There were more perks to this marriage thing than he’d anticipated. […] Especially now that’d he’d have a firm excuse that he was married to avoid doing all the extra work he’d been called on to do in the past, for no extra money. They could find another sucker for that. Plenty of fresh-out-of-law-school faces were foaming the halls at the moment, and that was exactly what juniors were for.
In other words, this comes across to me sounding like single people don’t deserve any time off because their lives/work-life balance circumstances aren’t as important as those of married people/people with children. Xander is reinforcing particular social structures that deliberately disadvantage certain people unless or until they conform to said social structure. In this case, that structure is “marriage.” When I read Xander so cavalierly perpetuating some of the very heteronormative, patriarchal malarky he himself suffered under, I was a bit (a lot) disgusted.
2) When Blake finally outs himself to a colleague named Lorna, this is how it goes down:
Lorna chuckled. “Don’t let your wife hear you say that.”
Blake cleared his throat. “Husband.”[…] She barely waited a beat before speaking again. “Did I know you were gay?”
“No, don’t worry. And I’m not. Gay, that is. I’m bi.” There might not have been scores of women ready to line up and confirm Blake’s interest in them, but he wasn’t about to pretend he wasn’t attracted to women at all. He know enough about this kind of thing to know that saying he was bisexual was, politically, more dangerous than saying he was gay, but it shouldn’t have been and he was lying enough already.
Here, it was more the presentation than the thoughts behind it. I simply dislike how the FIRST WORDS out of his mouth after Lorna responds to Blake’s being married to a man is for Blake to DENY DENY DENY. The narration does go right into explaining that he truly is bi and that admitting this is tantamount to chomping on a political cyanide capsule (the implication being he’s being brave). Nevertheless, the way it’s structured here just makes me think this is reinforcing, albeit partially, the idea that men have to be sexually attracted to women even if not exclusively so.
I know these are rather specific points tangential to the story, but they’re big issues to me and I simply didn’t appreciate how these read on-page.
That said, neither point negated my overall enjoyment of the story. If you like the wake-up-married scenario and are looking for one that builds up the romantic relationship through a series of thoughtful personal vignettes, this would be a great read.