A portrait of a relationship on the brink set in Great Recession–era London.
British author Evans (26a, 2005), winner of the Orange Award for New Writers, has centered her new novel on a love in crisis. Black Londoners Melissa and Michael are on “the far side of youth, at a moment in their lives when the gradual descent into age was beginning to appear,” and outwardly they seem to be a properly suited pair. Melissa’s best friend, Hazel, even refers to them as “Chocolate”—playing off their initials, M&M—and what could be more perfect than that? Nonetheless, as can be expected in a novel dedicated to the underside of a long-term relationship, all is not well at 13 Paradise Row, the home Melissa and Michael share with their two children. Balancing dry humor, wit, and empathy, Evans expertly delineates her main characters' frustrations: The expectations of both motherhood and romantic partnership leave Melissa on the precipice of exploding in anger or having a breakdown, while Michael laments, mostly while drinking red wine, that his desire for Melissa is unrequited, a view steeped in nostalgia for the honeymoon phase of their relationship and explained through the music of John Legend, whose second single gives the book its title. Most of the time Evans' writing is accurate as she moves from the small details of domestic life to larger ideas—feminism, urban life, black identity. Here she is describing the doldrums of monogamy: “Passion, at its truest and most fierce, does not liaise with toothpaste. It does not wait around for toning and exfoliation. It wants spontaneity. It wants recklessness. Passion is dirty, and they were too clean.” At other moments, Evans’ narrative choices seem perplexing, such as her use of the slang phrase “off the hizzle” as a refrain; it seems dated and less cool on the page than when emanating from the mouth of Snoop Dogg circa 2005. In fact, the biggest weakness of an otherwise astute novel is Evans' occasional overreliance on pop culture. For instance, the story is bookended by the first election of Barack Obama and the death of Michael Jackson, two culturally significant moments that are, at best, tangential to the story.
Evans frankly and unflinchingly depicts a romance overwhelmed by the ennui of everyday life.