Review: Meet Me in Madrid (Verity Lowell)

Two households, both alike in dignity,
In fair Verona, where we lay our scene…

Except it isn’t two households, ccit’s two women, and it isn’t fair Verona, it’s Madrid. And no one dies at the end, which is refreshing (looking at you, Boys on the Side and Fried Green Tomatoes).

There’s bound to be spoilery stuff here.

Charlotte, once a Yale undergrad and now (some kind of lowly curator title) and courier shepherding pieces of art to the places they’ve been loaned, is stranded in Madrid during a sudden storm. Adrianna, once a Yale lecturer, and now a lecturer on the entirely opposite coast, is in Madrid on a sabbatical, running down and transcribing the diaries of a nun. They knew one another briefly,back at Yale, but now they’ve both been focused on their life in academia, pursuing their careers. They meet up at a cafe Adrianna knows, and the writing at that point tells you what going to happen: instalove.

There’s nothing wrong with that, of course, ass it’s a trope of the genre. I did like the wrinkle that there is at least the fact they knew one another in some way prior to Madrid. This means they’re also a bit older than the characters who usually inhabit the gene, and they’re also both black, another departure from the genre. No young white women with blond hair, blue eyes, zero body fat and perfect abs here: the author paints both women as “buxom”, which I took to mean that both have at least something approximating a bit of middle age spread in addition to both having big chests.

After a three day marathon of sex, Charlotte heads back to New Haven, and both women have the newly-met-but-too-far-away stars in their eyes, looking forward to their next meeting, in NYC, for the new year.

There’s a brief appearance by Hadley, a slim, white, young woman with perfect everything (oops, I guess not all tropes are dead) at the beginning of the new year version of Madrid, someone Charlotte can’t stand for reasons not well explained, who invites them to a NYE party at her parents’ house, and they go, for some reason. After finishing the book, I understand why, but it was a little heavy handed.

More sex, over the next couple of days. Adrianna flies back to Madrid, and we get an encore of Emotions.

Charlotte is tasked with taking some art out to California, and Adrianna insists that she meet Esther, a dear friend of hers. Esther’s having a time with her husband, who has been having an affair with one of his students. To put the betrayal on blast, he sends the student to tell Esther about it. After getting stuck in LA by yet another freak storm, Charlotte winds up at Esther’s teaching her son Fisher to make beignets. There’s a weird, uncomfortably written conversation between Esther and Charlotte, and the “is this older woman, having been married to a shitty dude with whom she had a son, really a lesbian, or at least bi?” thing was off-putting. There’s also a connection made, thanks to networking, when Esther takes Charlotte to Piedmont, who may or may not be in the market for a half courier/half lecturer type of person.

Next up: Chicago (Adrianna’s hometown) at Valentines Day! Also, interviews, where she once again faces the dean from Piedmont, but they have to pretend they don’t know one another. Charlotte also gives a talk on race and art, and her asshole boss from the museum – “I don’t see you as a person of color, Charlotte” – is there, once again saying stupid things, this time about how Brer Rabbit and Songs of the South are not racist, I guess, and how art shouldn’t be politicized. It’s the sort of blather some overly educated jerk says when they’re trying to put down one of their own employees with a nonsensical what if. What I thought immediately, and what Adrianna actually says in the book against his crap, is that his statement itself is political.

More sexytimes. They depart from one another, again.

In between all this – and sometimes when they’re recovering from a round of sex, there’s discussion of how difficult it is in general to have a career in the arts, and in particular, how hard it is for black, gay women to have a career in the arts. This is true (not just of the arts, of course, BIPOC LGBTQAI+ folk have a hard time of it anywhere) but the way it’s written feels like it’s been copied out of a policy paper.

Later in the book, we get the Sophie’s Choice: both women get job offers, but it would mean they would swap coasts, and still have the same problem: long distance relationships, even with these two who can get horny on command via facetime, are problematic in a lot of ways. They finally have their first blowup, after Adrianna tells Charlotte abut her offer from Yale. They get snippy from one another, and then give each other the silent treatment: no texts, no calls, no facetime.

Esther tells Adrianna she’s being a jerk and to knock it off. We get the usual makeup bit, but of course, they are still apart.

Charlotte,her pal James, and three other people get the axe fro the museum thanks to Jerkface McRacistBoss. James, crafty queen that he is, has receipts: Jerkface gets fired, the five are rehired, and Charlotte is given a vague promise or promotion to Deputy Curator when the woman in charge retires.

But where we land is in Cali. Esther has hooked up with Hadley, so we have a May-September romance with the two mains, and a May-December with the secondaries. It also occurred to me that out of the four white adult guys we meet for any real time, one is gay, one is a dean of the arts college, one is a two-timing douchebag, and the last is a racist homophobe.

If you’re reading for the sex, you’ll be delighted: there’s a lot of it, and it’s very graphic, sometimes to the point of being clinical. If you’re reading for the story: it’s ok. The writing style seems to be most comfortable when the topic is academia, and the descriptions of interviews and campus visits was the best writing and the best look at getting hired in academia that I’ve read outside of nonfiction.

Three out of five stars (possibly a fiver if erotica is your thing).

Thanks to Harlequin/Carina Press/Carina Adores and NetGalley for the reading copy.

At the end of the day, it’s a HEA – how could it not be?

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