All About Chemistry

I finished reading Sylvia Day’s Bared to You not too long ago, and it left behind an odd, jumbled impression. Part of it had to do with the chemistry between the two main characters, Eva and Gideon.

You don’t really think of characters in books having chemistry, not in the same way you associate it with actors on a screen. But this was the first time I can remember where the main relationship felt…off, I guess, because of a lack of chemistry.

In the story, you get right away that Eva is outrageously attracted to Gideon, and from the way she describes him, hell, I’m attracted to Gideon. But his attraction to her didn’t play for me. Maybe it’s because it was written in first person; maybe it was because of the way Eva described herself. It more likely had to do with the accelerated nature of their relationship (which is a whole ‘nother blog post). Whatever it was, I never got the sense Gideon was as head over heels in lust with Eva as she was with him. And lust aside, the speed at which their feelings for one another develops requires some serious suspension of belief, in more ways than one.

Now before you start thinking it’s not possible to demonstrate a deep mental, emotional, and physical connection while writing in first person point of view, I’ve got a few examples that prove otherwise.

First up: Mac and Barrons of Karen Marie Moning’s Fever series. The antagonism, the heat, the twist of emotions fairly burns your fingers in these books. From the moment MacKayla Lane sets eyes on Jericho Barrons in Darkfever, she’s toast. She wants him (badly, but c’mon, who wouldn’t?), but the more she gets to know him, the more her common sense asserts itself. Through her eyes, we see Barrons, and the full scale of Barrons-we see that under the uber-alpha male exterior, he’s capable of softer emotions. Barrons is bad, bad news for a Rainbow Girl like Mac. And because we run the gamut on the feelings scale with both characters (Barrons calls her Ms. Lane most of the time, calling her Mac only in moments of weakness, worry, and lust), the connection they have is a living, tangible thing.

But it’s not always about attraction. Take Rob and Cassie of In The Woods by Tana French. Good friends, best of friends, the way they work together is a dance, a perfect synchronicity of give and take, ask and answer. They haven’t known each other long, only a few years, but the layers French adds to their dynamic within the first few chapters, the nights spent together in Cassie’s flat with Rob on the couch, Cassie curled up in her bed, the way their airtight friendship doesn’t necessarily allow for outsiders to scale the walls and let themselves in, you’re heavily invested in what happens to them both, and when the end rolls around your heart breaks for both of them.

On the other ends of that line is Amy and Nick of Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl. A married couple who were once crazy about each other and now can’t stand each other (or so we think) you can feel the rage and delirium and a sick, twisted sort of love building and stretching as the ties binding them together strain. But despite the dark and damaging way their relationship turns, their relationship is still a believable one, within the parameters Flynn has set for them.

I think the problem with Day’s book, and the relationship with Eva and Gideon, is she didn’t invest enough time building up to it. It was like it was a little tablet sitting in the bottom of a glass and presto! Just add water! Instant relationship. She skips the nuances these other relationships had, right from the beginning, and launches into the intense and sometimes raunchy sex the book is known for.

And lest you think it’s just because it’s not possible to build a fierce, and fiercely driven, relationship based on intense lust at first sight, look no further than Eugenie and Kiyo in Richelle Mead’s Storm Born. Within the first ten chapters, the pair are having wicked hot animalistic sex, setting the tone for a couple who can’t keep their hands off each other, who love as strongly as they doubt, much like what Day tried to show with Eva and Gideon.

I’m hoping Reflected in You will help assuage some of the issues I had with the depth of feeling Eva and Gideon supposedly feel for each other. We’ll see.

2 thoughts on “All About Chemistry

  1. I think it’s easy to picture the chemistry between two characters in your mind, but very difficult to pull it off effectively in storytelling. I love the example you give of Gone Girl – one of my favorite reads of 2012. So cleverly written. Great post!

    1. It is difficult to do. I haven’t read any of Day’s other books, so I’m not sure if this is a common problem for her or not. And yes, Gone Girl was a fantastic book. The push/pull between Amy and Nick was so strong.

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