Sunday, July 1, 2012

Book Review: Come and Go by Lee Harlem Robinson

Come and Go is a chick lit romance that follows the dyke drama of Lee, a lesbian caught in the fast paced nightlife of Hong Kong.

Lee's just had her heart broken and is still desperately in love with her ex, drinks like a fish, and generally works and plays too hard. Like everyone in Hong Kong, apparently. When her ex Stella starts reaching out to her again, she flops straight onto the line like a fish that hasn't eaten in weeks, but slowly starts to figure out that, maybe, Stella isn't a good idea. Meeting the dark and lovely Nikki leaves her torn between the two, but then her other ex flies into town... Unfortunately, Lee is incredibly passive, and unable to say no. Every time one of her lovers gets a hand on her, she goes along with it, falling into bed with them out of pity, desire or habit, much against her better judgement and always making things worse.

You're thrown into the middle of Lee's hectic personal life, her heartbreak and forlorn pining for her glamorous, gorgeous, cheating ex, and the buffeting as she falls in and out of womens' beds and starts to figure out who she wants - too late to get it. There's definitely personal growth, and the relationships between the characters change in interesting and dramatic ways, but there's no story outside that. So if you like stormy love lives, the perils of dating, sex and broken hearts, and dyke drama in which everyone sleeps with everyone else, and is upset that everyone else is also sleeping with everyone else, then you'll really enjoy this book.
The dyke drama part is, whew, a rollercoaster. I started to feel a bit buffeted by the end, and not to care much who was upset this time, because there was always more coming around the corner, surging on like an ocean. Everytime Lee decides something or sleeps with someone or has something go right, the very next day she learns that someone else slept with someone, or that she shouldn't have, or ...  You never get more than a few pages of before DRAMA. Even when her love life is going well, it turns out that her new girlfriend is less than restful.

The 'Hong Kong' ambience and details; the drinking, the attitudes, the city lights, the prices, the gay & lesbian scene, all ring true and exotic. Lee matches her behaviour to her perception of the city, drinking hard,and generally acting as if she's in exile, in a bubble separate from real life. Lee is far from perfect, and breaks her own resolutions constantly, but she does slowly start to stand up for herself and become increasingly sure of who she likes - and dislikes. By the end of the story, she's starting to sort herself out a little, has the option of leaving, and is considering staying more permanently.

There are a handful of secondary characters, who are mostly expats, in a variety of ages from twenties to forties. Lee's two exes (the shiny and manipulative love of her life, Stella, and the unwanted and needy boss, Lucy), Charlie, the cynical, anti gay-stereotype gay man, who acts as best friend and does his best to apply a bit of blunt reality to Lee, has his own minor love drama playing out, having broken up with his lover over Stella's cheating. We can't ignore Nikki, the dark and lovely, and slightly dangerous, American Chinese woman, who embodies the bridge between the past and the future for Lee, and goes from 'nice girl' to slightly terrifying dominatrix with control issues and back again at ...well, dyke drama speed.

There is also a backdrop of minor characters; Lee's three interchangeable and terribly stereotypical 'lesbros', promiscuous gay men who sleep with every hot guy who moves, call everyone darling, and join her nightly for boozing, or rare movie nights around the television. There's Sadie, the lovely local waitress who becomes a minor peak in the crescendo of dyke drama. And a few bit faces, from Lee's workplace or daily life, the cleaning lady whose name is mentioned but we never meet, and the occasional doorman (or woman) holding doors open. But most of the story, most of Lee's attention, is taken up with herself and Stella and Nikki. 
The writing is delightful, marvellously edited - yes, no typos or grammar issues! - and with only a few sentences I considered rewording (and that was mostly because I try and do that all the time, to see if it could have been better or not). This isn't the author's first major foray into public writing, and it shows.

The pacing is, like the setting, pretty fast, but that mostly good too, unless you're looking for a relaxing and seductive romance. You don't get to luxuriate in long conversations or romantic interludes lasting several pages, instead, encounters are quick and our narrator moves fast into beds and out of them. There's not a lot of lingering description either, with the author picking the highlights, the details that catch our protagonist's eye. The sex scenes where treated the same way - never explicit or detailed, but leaving you in no doubt what just happened and how Lee felt about it.

The downside of this, at least for me, is that we don't get a lot of facts about people. Pertinent features, such as cheekbones and legs, are mentioned, but often we have to piece the rest together over many pages. Characters are generally divided into local, short and Asian, or a foreign, presumably European, taller, expat. I have no idea what Lee looks like, though we get to know her personality very well. I know she's under forty, because it was mentioned in passing in comparison to another character. Two thirds of the way in, we learn that Lee is from the UK (this is where reading the prequel would be handy!), but it's not really an issue.  In the Hong Kong social scene, one is apparently an expat or one is not.

It's not really a problem, just a preference in style. I like having a framework to build up my mental image of a character, and knowing that it's not about to be contradicted a couple of pages later. But the first person view, and the focus on the stuff that matters to Lee - for example, she never stops to admire herself in the mirror, to create a faux-casual description of herself, doesn't care where people come from, but pays attention to clothes and apartments in her attempts to read people - builds up a compelling picture of her personality and her world.

So in summary, it's a fun, fast paced, sexy and slightly relentless - and often exasperating - story, that pulls you into the turmoil and keeps you entertained. It isn't a particularly deep story, but the characters feel real, as does the setting, and they all develop in interesting ways.There's no certain happy ever after, and I could easily see this turning into a series, as Lee sleeps her way through all the cities of the world! I do want to read the prequels, both for the backstory, and to get to know our characters better - and because I did enjoy this author's work.

Lee is a fictional character, though the author based the story on her own experiences of Hong Kong, so yes, the author name is a pseudonym, it's not a biography! The actual author is Hannelore Arbyn.

Further Reading (free prequels)
You can buy Come and Go from Amazon and Smashwords in ebook format, and paperback from Amazon.

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