Come Together

The Boy Next Door
by Josie Lloyd and Emlyn Rees
(Berkley, $6.99, PG) ISBN 0-425-18449-8
Frankly, the story behind the relationship between these two authors is more interesting than their latest release. Josie Lloyd and Emlyn Rees met just a few weeks before they began writing their 1999 debut novel, Come Together, a delightful look at a typical 20-something courtship told in alternating he said/she said chapters. As they wrote, they fell in love. After the release of Come Together, they married, had a baby, and published a sequel that was not, alas, released in the U.S. The Boy Next Door, their third collaboration, utilizes the same alternating male/female narrators, but most of the grit and ambiguity of their sparkling debut is gone, replaced with traditional romance novel conventions. In fact, the book is classified as romance, although Come Together was considered straight fiction. Not that thereís anything wrong with thatÖbut the overall effect is disappointing.

Fred Wilson is a month away from marrying his gorgeous, intelligent, stylish girlfriend, Rebecca, and heís a pretty happy dude. Not ecstatic, mind you, but then, who is? He has a steady job, good friends, and Rebecca loves sex, so he canít complain. Until one day he is in a toy store, looking for a computer game, and he bumps into Mickey Maloney, the former Girl Next Door, whom he hasnít seen, talked to or heard from in more than 12 years.

From their first meeting at age eight, neighbors Fred and Mickey were best friends, always ready for adventure. Their relationship deepened during adolescence, when they abruptly became boyfriend and girlfriend - the best kind of romance, because they already knew each other well and loved each other despite their shortcomings. But at age 15 they were torn apart by a tragedy that sent Fred far away, beyond Mickeyís reach.

Now fate has brought them face to face again. After Fred and Mickey fill each other in on their respective histories since their last disastrous encounter, theyíre not sure what to do next. Mickey is now a single mother (no, thank goodness, itís not Fredís Secret Love Child!) and has to be a responsible parent to her 9-year-old son, Joe. She owns a small flower shop, and although sheís proud of her success, sheís intimidated by Fredís upscale job. And letís not forget Fredís impending nuptials. So what kind of relationship is possible for two former best friends and first loves who may still have feelings for each other?

The most engaging aspect of Lloyd and Reesí debut, Come Together, was the distinct male/female voices that they utilized. Their vastly different perspectives gave the novel a great deal of authenticity (not to mention fodder for fascinating discussions with my husband regarding the male point of view). Maybe the authors have been married too long and have started to take on each otherís mannerisms, because the chapters in The Boy Next Door frequently sound as if they were written by the same person. Fredís voice may be a little more pensive and Mickeyís more practical, but they blend together too easily, removing the angle that made Come Together so refreshingly different.

The book also suffers because almost all of the action has already taken place when we meet the hero and heroine. The reader gradually revisits the past through Fredís and Mickeyís reminiscences and learns what happened to tear the teenage lovers apart. Fred, in particular, had a troubled childhood, with parents who were totally wrong for each other, and a father who was frequently absent on mysterious business trips.

But thereís very little going on in the present other than Fredís wedding day drawing ominously closer. Fred and Mickeyís son, Joe, bond almost immediately over computer games, removing a potentially intriguing conflict. Fred and Mickey donít spend enough time together to convince the reader that they are genuinely in love, not just nostalgic about their past relationship. True, Mickey knows the truth about Fredís past that he has never shared with anyone else, even Rebecca, but a compelling case is never made that their past history is enough to sustain them indefinitely.

And then thereís Rebecca, the Other Woman. Could Lloyd and Rees have made her any easier to despise? She is snobby, sexually narcissistic (albeit enthusiastic) and she hates children. The novel would have been much more interesting if Fred had been given a choice between a sympathetic fiancťe and the soul mate from his past, but the authors, once again, take the easy way out.

Despite my complaints, I canít totally dismiss The Boy Next Door. It has some lovely, thoughtful passages, Fred and Mickey are easy to root for, and the male/female gimmick hasnít totally worn thin yet. These authors definitely have talent; letís hope that both their marriage and their literary careers endure.

--Susan Scribner

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