Unfinished Business, by Karyn Langhorne

>> Sunday, August 01, 2010

TITLE: Unfinished Business
AUTHOR: Karyn Langhorne

PAGES: 385

SETTING: Contemporary US
TYPE: Romance

REASON FOR READING: I read a good review of it at AAR.

Black activist Erica Johnson wears her causes on her sleeve—literally. With her class of beloved fourth graders depending on her to represent their concerns, Erica's ready to confront golden-boy conservative senator Mark Newman. And she's willing to suffer through a night in jail and a battle of wits with a real-life war hero, if it will help get the children the money they need.

Mark Newman's a worthy adversary. But there's a more human side to the ambitious politician with the dreamy blue eyes—from the physical pain of his war wound, to his grief over his wife's death. Though they disagree on every hot-button issue, Erica and Mark can't resist their attraction or ignore the unfinished business between them—much to the delight of those trying to use this new relationship against the senator. And when Erica starts receiving some particularly vicious hate mail she has to decide if this handsome dream from the right/wrong side of the political fence is worth risking her heart for . . . and maybe her life.
Contemporary romance tends to stay far, far away from politics. In the few I have read where a character is in politics, authors have been very careful not to say which party they support. It was quite refreshing, therefore, to read a book like Unfinished Business, where the politics and ideology were the main conflict.

Schoolteacher Erica Johnson is sick of the politicking that means her students are disadvantaged and have few opportunities, while big business gets whatever they want. She realises talk is not enough any more, and decides to take action, by attending a Senate hearing and protesting. As she's dragged out, she challenges one of the Republican senators, golden boy Mark Newman, to actually visit her school and see what she's talking about. Mark, surprisingly, accepts. And he issues a challenge of his own: that Erica spend time in his home district and see the issues there from a different perspective.

This all leads to Mark and Erica spending time together, and surprise, surprise, they like each other more than they expected. Not to mention the attraction that begins to develop. But then Mark starts receiving anonymous threatening letters and pictures from someone who seems to regard Erica and Mark's burgeoning relationship as scandalous...

I confess I was a bit wary, before I started this. The main thing is that Mark is portrayed as very conservative, and I'm not only quite a bit left of centre (and veering more and more to the left as the years go by), but also increasingly repulsed by what I see of the US Republican party. I wondered if I'd be able to like him at all. I was also worried about Erica, and hoped Langhorne wouldn't make her into a stupidly naive caricature of a bleeding-heart liberal.

Fortunately, she didn't. Erica is passionate about what she believes, but she's got her feet well on the ground. Langhorne also succeeded in making me like Mark. I may not agree with most of his positions, but can accept that he's fundamentally a decent human being. I liked that the author didn't tone down the differences between these two people, or portray either of them as wrong. The message here was that since these two respected and liked each other, they were able to live with those differences.

I also liked that race wasn't an issue in their relationship. Not an internal issue, anyway, even though there were some external issues in how Mark's constituents would react to him and also in them being targetted by someone who's clearly disturbed by the idea of an interracial relationshipbeing with a black woman.

Which brings me to my only real problem with the book: I kept wishing this was purely a character driven story. The external plot was a distraction from the really interesting and fresh conflict, and it wasn't very well done, either. By the end of the book, the focus had moved a bit too much in that direction, and I put the book down a few times too many.



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