Some love stories end with a sigh.
Definitely there is a sigh because the romance ends well before the reader is ready to close the book or part company with the characters. Possibly there is a sigh because the characters are reminiscent of true passionate loves we have personally known or whispered breathlessly about with friends. And, maybe, just maybe, there is a sigh because the tale is so powerfully evocative of our own fantasy romances.
FLESH TONES ends with a sigh.
M. J. Rose's heroine Genny Haviland loves Slade Gabriel, a successful artist featured in her father's swanky uptown New York gallery. And Slade Gabriel adores Genny, a bright and somewhat precocious gallery intern. Rose's third book is about a boundless (sigh) love that transcends a litany of obstacles. First, Slade is married to someone else. Second, Genny is 20 years his junior (and only 17, to boot). And, finally, it appears that Genny may have assisted Slade with his own suicide. If you hear an ethical echo, it is a faint one. Rose treads on all these taboo issues while never really passing judgment on them. She leaves that up to you to do. Her goal is to tell a story of love --- maybe even obsession --- in the tradition of stories like THE ENGLISH PATIENT and REBECCA. And she succeeds.
The book opens with Genny, now 38, facing a jury of her peers in the murder trial for her deceased lover. The telling of their affair unfolds through flashbacks, mostly triggered by courtroom testimony. Rose weaves seamlessly in and out of the present day and 20 years earlier, focusing equally on both. The earlier scenes are hypnotic --- erotic and intelligent portrayals of Genny and Slade's attraction to each other and the ultimate consummation of their attraction. Rose paints a beautiful picture of a slightly troubled and dark artist, without being cliché, who finds light in his love interest and sometimes subject. Rose's descriptions of Slade's art and the inspiration for his work are captivating. The romance is breathtaking.
The courtroom scenes are a framework for the recounting of the affair but they too are strongly written and compelling. They introduce just enough doubt into Genny's motivation to keep the present day story suspenseful. Central to the decision of guilt is the question of whether or not Genny truly loved Slade or if she was unhealthily obsessed with him. Their love seems beyond question, and yet, there's just enough teasing detail thrown in to make one wonder. Was Slade dying from a debilitating disease as Genny claimed, and was she just doing what any loved one would do if found in the same situation? Or were there other factors influencing her, like her devotion to her father?
Intelligent and fast paced, FLESH TONES introduces the world of art houses and galleries, courtroom drama, and palpable passion. Rose leaves readers wanting more (sigh) --- like any good love story should --- more of Genny and Slade's undying love for each other, even in the face of death.
Reviewed by Roberta O'Hara on January 22, 2011