After a long day — at the end of a long week — Bennet decides to join his friends at the local gay club. It’s there that sweet, lovely, and quiet Jaime meets the charming and handsome Tim, and it’s there that opinionated Bennet meets arrogant Darius. It’s antipathy at first sight as Darius is rude to the staff, dismissive of the people having fun, and, more than that, has absolutely no interest in Bennet calling him “just about fuckable,” but “hardly up to my standards.”
Bennet manages to ignore the insult, barely, but Darius makes it hard. Each time they meet there’s some new jibe, some new aspersion to the college, to his choice of sandwiches, to Jaime, to anything and everything Bennet loves. So why can’t he get Darius out of his mind? Why does the one night they kissed keep haunting his memories? And why must Darius be so disagreeable?
This story is a modern reinterpretation of one of my favorite books, Pride and Prejudice. Like many books that try to re-imagine Austen’s classic characters and the themes of money, reputation, and social standing, it would have been a better story had the author not tried to follow the source material so closely. This is not a horrible book, but nor is it a really good one; it lies somewhere between a quick, light read and a character study of a truly unpleasant young man, but by using the framing of Pride and Prejudice, it becomes clumsy and dully predictable with nothing the characters say or do having any weight because their paths are already laid out for them. So, knowing the story as we do, it’s up to the characters themselves to be interesting and… it almost works.
Bennet Rourke is living paycheck to paycheck to put himself through college, along with a small student loan. Work, his college classes, his friends, and his lack of a boyfriend are his primary concerns until he comes face to face with Darius. It’s not love at first sight or even lust at first sight. When Bennet sees Darius being rude to the staff at the gay club, he’s offended and instantly turned off. Studying for a career in hospitality himself, he knows just how hard those people work — and this being a small town, he knows those people, personally. When he overhears Tim and Darius talking about the club it’s a nod to the famous scene in Pride and Prejudice: “tolerable, but not handsome enough to tempt me.”
There, however, it’s an overheard comment spoken in confidence. Here, Darius takes a look at Bennet and, to his face, deems him barely fuckable and declares his disinterest. This isn’t Darius being proud or prejudiced, this is Darius being an asshole. Multiple scenes of Darius being boorish are scattered through the book in an apparent effort to remind us of Darcy’s arrogance and haughty contempt. But where Darcy was a product of his time and judging people by their social status and education, Darius is just rude, cruel, and an asshole. By making Darius so completely and absolutely unlikable, it’s no longer a story about Darius being misunderstood with haughty, well-bred manners or a story of him being protective for his closest friend, Tim. It instead becomes Darius being a deliberate jerk. Bennet can’t look back at these events and think “oh, I just prejudged him and let my first impression and wounded pride color who he really is.” Instead it becomes “I’m horny and he’s hot so I’ll forgive him for that so I can get fucked.”
Keeping in mind that this story is told from Bennet’s point of view, we must understand that, as a narrator, he’s unreliable and not much more pleasant than Darius is. Bennet judges everything and everyone, from his best friend who isn’t ready for sex, to his roommates who hop from boyfriend to boyfriend. Everything in Bennet’s life must be about him, even when the College’s reputation — and the reputation and lives of his teachers — are under attack, it’s always the Bennet show. He’s quick and anxious to point out several times that it’s not his fault when other people have actual problems more important than how one young twenty-something feels.
Bennet sees the world in black and white. When Charlotte, his best friend, falls in love — or at least like — with Callum, an ex lover of Bennet’s that helped encourage him into extreme credit card debt (four cards worth), he’s furious at her. How dare she like someone he dislikes? She’s now a villain to him and written off in his mind. So, when he decides to like Darius because that’s how the story says it goes, he has to bend over backwards to see the good in Darius and the good he sees is mostly physical. The kiss they had or the way his butt looked in climbing shorts. Even the author seems to understand there’s a bit of an imbalance because instead of it being Darius who broke up Bennet’s best friend and the man he was falling in love with, it was someone else. So, Bennet’s free to fancy Darius all he likes because he may be an asshole, but he’s handsome.
Several plot points were added in, such as Callum and Charlotte, Bennet’s parents and brother, the relationship between two teachers at school, and a rival student, only to stay limp and listless, serving no actual purpose and left mostly unresolved. The Wyndham plot involves underage porn — the young man in question is 16, was drunk at the time, didn’t know he was being filmed, and changed his mind, saying “no” to the encounter — with an emphasis on making videos with unwilling or unknowing participants. In order to compare and contrast him to Darius, Wyndham (here a half brother instead of the son of a steward) has to be worse. He has to be the worse option, the path Bennet was fortunate not to take. And what does it say about Darius that Wyndham had to be pushed so far to unlikability in order to make Darius a prince in comparison?
The female characters are either villains, bad friends, or liars. Bennet is a terrible friend, a terrible son — but it’s okay because his brother’s a jerk — and Jamie’s decision to abstain from sex until he’s with someone he loves becomes a joke. Bennet doesn’t care that it’s Jamie’s birthday; in fact, he doesn’t seem to care about Jamie at all. His offense at Tim breaking up with his best friend (as when Bingly leaving Netherfield and Jane behind at Darcy’s urging) is because … reasons? Because the story makes him, not because he actually cares. It almost feels as if, in the scenes between he and Jamie discussing it, Bennet just wants it to go away so he can go back to being the star of the Bennet show.
To be honest, this book might have worked better had it not attempted to be an homage to Pride and Prejudice. This book doesn’t seem to fully capture the characters or the subtleties of that story. Darius isn’t the same person at the end of the book as he is at the beginning. He changes to please Bennet. Bennet is the same person at the beginning as he is at the end, opinionated and full of himself. This is in contradiction to the ending of Pride and Prejudice where Lizzy (Bennet) realizes that she let her own biases affect how she saw Darcy/Darius and interpreted his actions. I don’t mind flawed characters or even unpleasant characters, but when reading an homage to Pride and Prejudice, I expect the characters to at least somewhat represent the characters and the the story from the source inspiration.
The writing is good enough that I think this could have been an entertaining story without the crutch of being a tribute to a different book. The author clearly knows a great deal about the world of party throwing and event organizing, as well as rock climbing and those scenes had personality. If you love Pride and Prejudice, I’d suggest avoiding this book.