Liese, Chloe. Two Wrongs Make a Right. Berkley, 2022. 336 pp. ISBN 978-0593441503 $17.00
Tis the season for Shakespeare inspired stories! Two Wrongs Make a Right is based on Much Ado About Nothing, in which Benedick and Beatrice don’t love each other until his friend Count Claudio and her sister Hero (who are in love with each other) convince Benedick and Beatrice they are meant to be.
In this modern retelling told in alternating voices, Jamie and Bea literally bump into one another at a party and it’s hate at first sight (even though they’re attracted to one another). He seems stuffy and serious, and her artist persona, tattoos and creative dress seem at direct odds with his buttoned up Boy Scout persona. Her twin sister Juliet and her love, Jean-Claude get engaged, assume everyone should be as happy and in love as they, and after seeing the sparks fly, set up Bea and Jamie on a blind date that amps up over a week’s work of anonymous bantering texts back and forth. Upon discovering the identity behind their exchanges, they are less than amused, and even less to discover the culprits spying on them. To get revenge they decide to fake date and have a dramatic break up to teach a lesson. As always in these cases, it backfires and they discover a deep compatibility.
Shakespeare details abound (the family cat is named Puck) including mistaken identities (Jamie is known to friends as West, Bea calls him James to irritate him and dubs him NRB–not real Ben in her phone) and favorite romance tropes (opposites attract, forced proximity, awkwardness after physicality). The writing is fast paced and witty, and the chapter headings have truly awesome names. Best of all is the protagonists are such fully realized characters, from Bea’s subtly erotic greeting card art, astrology leanings, and aversion to vegetables, her bisexuality and dating trauma, to Jamie’s pediatrics practice, fur babies, waltzing skills and family issues. Their slow burn that builds to comfort, trust and passion is a delight.
In the vein of some of my favorite authors (Olivia Dade, Talia Hibbert), neurodivergence plays a strong role in character development and is celebrated. Jamie’s anxiety and Bea’s ASD presented as real, complete, lovable and enough. Sprinkled with pop culture allusions to games and movies, their date encompass bowling, paint night, and more than one family party. This is also a smart book – big vocabulary words, a spattering of French and Latin, chess metaphors. It was a joy keeping up.
The intimacy is beautifully rendered, from the first impulsive lush kiss to their mutually satisfying no-penetration encounter to making love. Jamie comes across (no pun intended) as a perfect partner: willing to take his time, not judge, communicative, and taking pleasure in Bea’s pleasure. A minor detail that I really loved — instead of saying I’m clean, a character discloses their “STI-free” status which is a wonderfully modern and non-judgemental way to disclose one’s health to a new partner. I cheered.
Jean-Claude’s slow descent into possessive, abusive madness as Jamie and Bea’s relationship deepens sends Bea protectively to her sister’s side and retreating from her new and perfect relationship when her past traumas are triggered. She demands a break with no end in sight, he takes it as a breakup. But all’s well that ends awfully, and they come to their senses (no wedding yet though).
I’m hopeful that both twin Juliet and sister Kate are going to get their own Shakespeare treatments in future works from Chloe Liese; I can’t wait to read them.
I received a free advance reader’s review copy of #TwoWrongsDontMakeARight from #NetGalley.