Hardened from past hurts, can Avery West and Steel Brickman find the strength to heal one another? Steel’s intensity is overbearing and strong, crushing Avery’s ability to breathe. Avery’s wall is so thick – it seems almost impenetrable. Tangled in a mess of pain and desire, the two must learn to trust one another to find their own salvation.
I’ve made no bones about the fact that novellas are not my favorite literary format for a number of reasons, but the most telling in the case of this story is that one can seldom do justice to a weighty subject. I have read other Catori stories and found them to be well done and plausible in their approach to various subjects but I have to back off on this one.
First, I think Avery is just so damaged. Yes, one can summarize her struggles and the causes of her disconnect from life fairly easily. But to really get the gist of Avery’s life and the reason the reader finds her in that seedy bar is deserving of a bit more of an explanation than is the case here. She is a woman who has been emotionally and physically abandoned by those she expected to be her support. She is living in deplorable conditions, just trying to make ends meet, trying to keep herself safe, ignoring the squalor around her. She has literally shut down.
Now we encounter the hero who is a professional football player and a man who is drawn to Avery for some reason. It appears that he is aware of her inner wounding and wants to give her a sense of safety, treats her with respect, and appears to be a person who will value and cherish her. But that also doesn’t appear to be who Steel Brickman is down deep. Some reviewers have accused him of “changing.” I think he is so appalled at the quality of life Avery is willing to endure that he tries to bully her out of accepting less rather than fighting for more. His anger over her rape is understandable but I really don’t think it is handled well here at all.
There’s lots to be explored here between these two and I just don’t think it was done. I think the format of the book itself is awkward and makes the reading difficult. Perhaps the awkwardness of the style is meant to convey the unwieldy nature of the relationship between Avery and Steel. In that sense, it works. It also must be said that this is not your flowers and candy kind of romance. It is gritty and filled with disagreement, adversarial and lusty, and there were times I just didn’t think I was going to get past the pain both of them did to each other. There is possibly value in that, but I wonder how two people who are so angry with each other or the world can ever find what most of us would define as contentment or peace in their relationship.
I think this author has the skills to write an insightful book that looks at the issues that were at the core of both these people. I don’t think she really did it here. Avery was certainly very tough to love. It was hard for me to love her as a reader. I wanted to, but there are times when you just have to let people walk the path they choose. I don’t think Steel knew how to do that and thus the conflict that plagued their relationship. There’s just too much not quite right with this novella, not the least of which is that it’s a novella. Chalk it up to my own prejudice, but I just didn’t feel this story did what the author set out for it to do.
I give it a rating of 2.5 out of 5
You can read more from Judith at Dr J’s Book Place.