I knew before I finished reading Good-Bye to All That by Margo Candela that I had to read her three previous books. I discovered Margo via Crazy Book Tours . . . I had not previously heard of her or her work.
But I loved Good-Bye to All That and was fortunate to be able to interview Margo, as well as reward one lucky winner with copy of Good-Bye to All That which was generously provided by the author.
When I was asked to welcome Margo back to Colloquium tomorrow, September 22, 2010, in conjunction with the conclusion of her current blog tour with WOW! Women on Writing, I was thrilled and inspired to read and review More Than This, Margo’s third novel.
Alexander Velasquez is a handsome Latino lawyer from San Francisco. The son of a union organizer and attorney, Alexander was raised with a social conscience, but became accustomed to wearing designer suits and enjoying a comfortable lifestyle with Sigrid, who expected a proposal. Unfortunately, Alexander lost his job because he insisted on performing too much pro bono work to suit his Manhattan law firm’s partners — and suggested that the cleaning crew unionize. When Sigrid throws him out with — literally — only the clothes on his back, he returns to San Francisco.
Evelyn Morgan Reed-Sinclair hails from old San Francisco money, and her parents are at the top of every City A-list. A year spent in Paris, where no one knew her family, allowed Evelyn to enjoy an anonymous existence as just another struggling painter. She lost more than 100 pounds and took up smoking while hiding the fact that she didn’t really reside in her cramped studio — she actually lived in her aunt’s spacious apartment in the same building. But her Parisian adventure comes to a sudden, heart-breaking end and, like Alexander, Evelyn finds herself back in San Francisco.
Through a fluke, Evelyn embarks upon a faux career at UGotIt.com where her best friend, James, works. Evelyn has become, simply, Evelyn Morgan, hiding her true identity from everyone at the company except, of course, James. Her value to the company’s obnoxious president, Ted, increases exponentially when he sees her getting into a limousine with her professional socialite and party-goer sister, Tannin. After all, UGotIt.com needs investors, and if his new executive assistant is acquainted with Tannin, Ted figures he can convince Evelyn to use her connection to help inject cash into the struggling dot.com.
Alexander lands a job with his best friend, Pete’s, law firm, but he soon learns that the managing partner, Rodney, extended the job offer for reasons other than Alexander’s legal prowess. Candace Hall, a rich widow with major legal and public relations issues, fired the latest in a string of law firms and again needs new representation. But Candace is a high maintenance client of the first order who expects her counsel to wear the suits she has specially tailored for him, coordinate court appearances and legal strategies with her publicists, and attend society charity events with her. Alexander struggles with his professional obligation to Candace, whom he must defend in a class action suit accusing her of running a sweatshop, and his parents’ reactions to his choices.
Evelyn and Alexander discover that their offices are across the street from each other, and soon each is gazing out their respective window, daydreaming about the other. Alexander finds Evelyn beautiful and alluring, and Evelyn is smitten when she see Alexander perform an old-fashioned act of chivalry. They attend the same charity event, eat at the same deli . . . but always just-miss meeting in person. Will they ever get to know each other and find out if they measures up to each other’s fantasies?
The story is told through alternating first-person narratives, through which Evelyn and Alexander experience upheaval in their respective lives, a long journey home to San Francisco, and, after they notice each other, their growing obsession with each other.
As in Good-Bye to All That, Candela’s obsession with the corporate world fuels her creation of a cast of fascinating, quirky supporting players such as Pete, who lacks Alexander’s natural charm and good looks. Pete’s wife has recently left him, and Pete is devastated, so he happily welcomes his friend home and helps him land a job with Pete’s law firm. Pete serves as Alexander’s Jiminy Cricket-like voice of reason, reminding him about the values instilled in him by his family and urging him to question his choices, as Pete watches Alexander succumb to the demands of both the firm and its newest client.
James, Evelyn’s eccentric best friend, plays the same role in her life. But Evelyn, newly svelte, has lived her life hiding under bland jumpers, and James, along with Tannin, urges her to accentuate her new figure. James is delighted, if bemused, when Evelyn becomes his new ally at work, gossiping with her about their coworkers and marveling at Evelyn’s quick ascension up the organizational chart, even though he knows it can only be a temporary arrangement.
“More Than This” is still a book about flawed people making hasty decisions and trying to make things right, and that’s a common theme in all my books. People who let themselves make mistakes are much more interesting to me that womeone who tries to be perfect all the time.”
~ Margo Candela
Evelyn has lived a life of total privilege, but yearns to be more than a stereotypical component of her wealthy, famous family. A year in Paris spent living apart from all that is familiar to her has helped Evelyn develop her sense of self. But she is still very much a work in progress.
Alexander is well aware that his charm can open doors and create opportunities for him, but he is hungry for more than the shallow returns that type of investment has thus far delivered. To his credit, he acknowledges that he never loved Sigrid, even though he could have married her and continued living the lifestyle to which he became accustomed in New York City. After all, as Pete observes, Alexander can have his pick of women. But there is something about the woman he sees on the train . . . he cannot get her out of his mind, even as he finds himself staring over into her office window from his own.
The word “charming” is not only overused, but trite. Still, it is the one word that keeps coming to mind when I search for a way to sum up the allure of More Than This. Candela’s tale of two people searching for that elusive something more that will make their lives fuller and richer is charming. The characters are compelling and endearing because, at their core, despite Evelyn’s financial wealth and Alexander’s wealth of looks and charm, they are inherently good people. Both Evelyn and Alexander want to base their own sense of accomplishment on something more substantial than the advantages with which they have been born. In Alexander’s case, he can neither forget nor abandon his Latino heritage and the working-class folks on whose behalf his parents have focused their own professional endeavors. The opportunity to join his mother’s law practice beckons, but he wrestles with whether he can forego the material comforts that come from practicing law in a more traditional, corporate manner.
Candela’s writing style is crisp, and the action never bogs down, even for a short bit. She is adept at creating female characters full of self-doubt who are determined to improve their circumstances and, in the process, become more self-confident. In that respect, they are characters to whom female readers, in particular, can relate. The character of Evelyn is no exception. Despite growing up in a family to whom no material luxury has been denied, she is, in her late 20’s, just coming into herself, having lost an enormous amount of weight and needing to discover her true self, her own calling. Part of her faux career at UGotIt.com is about perpetuating the sense of accomplishment and competence she began developing during her Paris sojourn — before she found herself fleeing Europe for the comfort and familiarness of San Francisco. Rich or poor, the need to be more than an extension of one’s family of origin, rings true in Candela’s capable hands.
Anyone who has ever wondered what might have happened if one small aspect of their life had been different will be cheering for Evelyn and Alexander to finally meet and embark upon a relationship. After all, if Alexander had not stopped to help a young woman maneuver a baby stroller off a train in downtown San Francisco one morning, he would never have noticed the beautiful young woman with her knitting on her lap, and she would never have become entranced by the handsome stranger performing a simple act of kindness for a stranger. Candela makes her readers wonder how many serendipitous moments they have experienced in their own lives or, perhaps more importantly, how many they may have missed while rushing from one place to another without bothering to really notice their surroundings.
“What if” stories usually provide an intriguing premise and More Than This is no exception. Candela makes the most of that promising idea, taking her readers on a journey with Evelyn and Alexander toward . . . well, you’ll just have to read it to find out. Like Good-Bye to All That, I strongly recommend More Than This.
I read More Than This in conjunction with the 2010 Read ‘n’ Review Challenge.
Be sure to visit Colloquium again tomorrow, September 22, 2010, when Margo Candela’s current blog tour makes its final stop here! She has written a special guest post, Life and Love in the Office, just for the occasion and graciously provided a copy of Good-Bye to All That that will be awarded to one lucky reader, selected at random!