Indecent Proposal is a marriage of convenience story whose premise is one that I can actually believe in for a contemporary setting. Ryan is a former model & bartender in New York City who has an impulsively and ill-advised one-night stand with Harrison Montgomery, the scion of a troubled political family. Ryan knows him only a Harry, a beautiful patron at her bar who is clearly having a horrible day. Harry is drowning his anxiety in drink. His sister Ashley’s has been abducted by Somali pirates (her story is told in Never Been Kissed,Book 2 of the Boys of Bishop series). He is hiding away in a hotel bar in NYC, waiting to hear if attempts to rescue/ransom her have been successful. In an uncharacteristic move for both of them, they indulge in conversation and flirtation before she joins him in his hotel room. When Ryan wakes up the next morning, the man she only knows as Harry is gone, although he has left a lovely goodbye note.
Ryan’s life which was not very stable to begin with goes into a tail-spin after their night together, she loses her job and to her great surprise discovers the condom they used failed and she is pregnant. Ryan is estranged from most of her family but is determined to somehow do this on her own and not crawl back home to her working-class family in Philadelphia. However when Ryan becomes seriously ill early in her pregnancy and her brother Wes finds her passed out in pool of blood, he is enraged and spurred into action. They are together in her hospital room when she discovers Harry’s true identity. Against her wishes he takes it upon himself to contact Harrison’s people and threaten them into making things right.
Harrison Montgomery is in the middle of congressional campaign in his home state of Georgia where the Montgomery’s have a long political history. His father is the former governor and author of many scandals, covered up by his wife. Harrison is determined not to follow his example but to be better than his father in every way he can be. Harrison insists that they marry against the advice of his closest advisors, who rather he quietly pay her off.
I really loved how Ryan unfurls as a character when she joins Harrison in Georgia. From their marriage contract negotiations, to the stiffening of her spine when faced with his awful parents and protective friends. She feels keenly how little prepared she is for political life or to fit in his privileged but dysfunctional family. She is able to withstand Harrison’s passive-aggressive and resentful behavior by armoring up by making the right connections, figuring out how dress right way & not letting them underestimate her.
Harrison is a difficult man for Ryan to love. He rarely offers glimpses of the person he was with her on their one-night stand. He has been raised to hide all his vulnerabilities or risk being shredded by those closest to him. He has gambled it all on this congressional bid and is desperate to avoid failure. While he longs revive their easy connection, he struggles to figure out how reach out to her. His clumsy attempts are rebuffed or misunderstood. O’Keefe does a wonderful job highlighting the gigantic disconnect they are facing when Ryan confronts Harrison with his utter detachment about her pregnancy and the reality that they will one day be parenting together. His utter focus on the campaign have blinded him to the fact that he is turning into his parents, thinking of Ryan and their future child as easily ignorable political props, the same way he used to be treated.
Both Harrison and Ryan have a lot of familial guilt and baggage to overcome, both are terrified of being vulnerable and have every reason to doubt and suspect each other. They have created the worst possible circumstances in which to try to make a sham marriage into a real one. O’Keefe builds fantastic relational tension, as Harrison and Ryan's attraction and mistrust develops into a frustrating hot-cold dynamic. They are constantly off-balance trying to figure out their boundaries and figure out what is real or what is for show in their interactions.
Indecent Proposal is a great book that delivers emotionally. Usually I fail to enjoy marriage of convenience stories and I hardly ever finish books with that trope. I think the reason Indecent Proposal worked for me when so many marriage of convenience story don't is that O’Keefe successfully transformed it into a “Marriage in Trouble” story and making me care less about the events that lead to their marriage and instead on them reviving the spark of connection that drew them together in the first place.
I received a digital review copy of Indecent Proposal from Random House Publishing Group - Bantam Dell via Net Galley.
A twitter conversation this morning with @_ClaudiaGC reminded me that I meant to write a review for Indecent Proposal months ago, but I was sidetracked by sickness, holidays and just too much else. The conversation helped me figure out why Indecent Proposal worked for me when so many marriage of convenience stories do not.