When Fiction Becomes Fact
(nb: I received a copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley)
Your name is Holly Croft. You’re a twenty-year-old actress on “Portobello Road,” a hugely popular evening soap opera. One day, the producers call you in for a conference, and they tell you they’re writing a new story arc. Your character, Jasmine, will find a new love interest named Casey.
Now imagine that Casey is also a girl, played by a stunning actress named Elise Manford. The new romance thrills the show’s fans, and there’s chemistry galore between you and your new costar.
Now imagine you’ve really fallen for her. You get jealous when Elise goes out with men. You yearn to spend time with her, to be more than friends. And you’re crushed when she tells you she’s “not like that.”
This is the basic crux of KE Payne’s new novel, “The Road to Her.”
Jasmine and Casey become one of the hottest couples on TV—Jasey, everyone calls them. Girls write to the studio, talking about how Jasey has helped them with their own lives, and the show’s ratings thrive. Conflict rules Holly’s life, though. Her ex-girlfriend, Grace, is moving back from Spain (two years after she dumped Holly), but Holly only has eyes for Elise. Holly grows increasingly frustrated, because she senses Elise’s feelings reciprocate her own, despite her protestations otherwise.
One night, after a long and boozy party, Holly’s wish seems to be coming true. How perfect would that be? Or how much might it shatter her heart?
“The Road to Her” is a cool romance novel. It takes us behind the scenes of a soap opera, with all the on-set bustle and insanity. Holly and Elise are both well-drawn and believable. Holly leads with her heart. For Elise, her career is everything. This, of course, leads to conflict between the two. Even as Jasey thrives on-screen, the two actresses are at loggerheads about how to proceed once the camera is off.
Perhaps ironically, “The Road to Her” feels soap-operatic as it proceeds. Some of the dialogue between Holly and Elise has that television melodrama ring to it. Hey, if you speak those lines at work five or six days a week, maybe they spill over into your real life as well.
The pacing works well, and the romantic climax (God, that phrase sounds inappropriate) satisfies.
One of the best features of “The Road to Her” is how author KE Payne deals with the two actresses’ relationship, and the LGBT double-standard they face. The whole Jasey arc on “Portobello Road” draws huge audience approval, and nobody bats an eye. If Holly and Elise as real-life stars were to come-out as a couple, the tabloids could destroy them. Lesbian romance is fine when it’s fiction, but in real life? There remains a stigma attached to it. At the bottom-line, do Holly and Elise have enough courage to live their private lives the way their characters do before millions of nightly viewers? Or could this sad duality wreck their careers?
It’s an interesting question Ms. Payne grapples with here, and the reader can only hope the couple’s personal strength ultimately mimics their alter-egos’.