[Review] The Perfect Find - Tia Williams
In The Perfect Find, Tia Williams gives us the story of Jenna, a former top fashion editor who finds herself out of work, out of love and out of place in a world where gifs are hot currency (even if, to her, they are “like bad acid trip hallucinations”) and magazines are losing ground to the internet. As she slowly makes her way back from the brink and takes steps to rebuild her career, Jenna finds an unlikely ally in Eric. Eric: young, cool, confident, with a promising career in filmmaking, a sharp wit and dimples that are very nearly 40-year-old Jenna’s undoing.
And that’s where the problem comes in for me. Reading this book meant meeting with some of the most common romance novel clichés and tropes, and finding ways of getting around them to the true story. All the talk of weak knees, killer smiles and undoing can be distracting, but thankfully Williams manages to flesh out the scenes with more than just “naked desire” – a phrase which makes me cringe so hard my body just about folds in half.
Instead of focusing only on the attraction that Jenna and Eric feel towards each other, the author gives them both detailed lives with histories, key characters and internal conflicts. This means the reader sees two different lives coming together, and understands the complications that come with the process of building a relationship.
A love story about an older woman and a younger man can hardly be read without reference to Terry McMillan’s How Stella Got her Groove Back. There is no life-changing tropical island getaway in The Perfect Find, but I did ask myself why it was that Jenna could only recover from the hurt of a past relationship through trying to build another (much riskier) one with a younger man. What is it about the youth of the man in these stories that is apparently so restorative? What would have happened if Jenna had met a man of her own age, and begun a relationship with him? Would she not have learned to love herself again? Would she not have been able to find the same strength in vulnerability? I just wonder what stories like this say about the capacity a man has to love as he grows older.
Problematic tropes aside, I did enjoy reading about Jenna and Eric’s relationship, and seeing how it changed both their lives in really important ways. I focus on the relationship, and not on the sex, because that is how Williams sets up the story. While there are a few memorable sex scenes, (which, mercifully, lean more towards what I would call “high fantasy” than anything contrived and uncomfortable), I appreciate the way Williams does not leave her characters at the mercy of their hormones. The relationship feels more credible in this way, and the story reads like something that could conceivably happen in real life.
The relationship, which is complicated not only by age, but also by the unexpected element of a shared history between Jenna and Eric, evolves into a dangerous, exciting, all-consuming thing that nearly ruins both their lives. It’s interesting that this theme of danger and destruction was at the centre of Jenna and Eric’s story. Throughout the book, their affair is described in terms of disaster: words such as “destroyed”, “shattered” and “to the core” are used several times. This heightens the emotion and creates a strong undertone of drama.
Every risky relationship must come to an end, and the reveal of Jenna and Eric’s affair elicits a drastic reaction in one key character who is common to both their lives. While the book could have ended on this “a-ha! We caught you, you filthy charlatans!” note, I appreciated that Williams went beyond the obvious conclusion. Jenna and Eric’s story picks up a few years after the reveal and the inevitable break-up, and the reader finds that the two still share a deep connection that is made even stronger by the introduction of an unexpected but equally welcome third party (and no, that is not code for “they have a threesome, just for old time’s sake”).
The Perfect Find is not a typical romance novel – in fact, it is not even classified as one. Rather, it is a story about love – for oneself first, and for others only as far as it serves you. That is a difficult lesson to learn in a world where women are still asked to put the wellbeing of others before their own in all areas – work, relationships, and family. This book is a reminder of what could happen if you lose yourself to any of these three things. We won’t all be so lucky as to have a handsome boy pull us out of the mire…