by Catherine McKenzie
Original Publication Date: December 28, 2010
Length: 416 pages
Obtained Via: Borrowed from the library
Publisher: William Morrow
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Anne Blythe has a great life: a good job, good friends, and a potential book deal for her first novel. When it comes to finding someone to share it with, however, she just can’t seem to get it right.
After yet another relationship ends, Anne comes across a business card for what she thinks is a dating service, and she pockets it just in case. When her best friend, Sarah, announces she’s engaged, Anne can’t help feeling envious. On an impulse, she decides to give the service a try because maybe she could use a little assistance in finding the right man. But Anne soon discovers the company isn’t a dating service; it’s an exclusive, and pricey, arranged marriage service. She initially rejects the idea, but the more she thinks about it — and the company’s success rate — the more it appeals to her. After all, arranged marriages are the norm for millions of women around the world, so why wouldn’t it work for her?
A few months later, Anne is travelling to a Mexican resort, where in one short weekend she will meet and marry Jack. And against all odds, it seems to be working out — until Anne learns that Jack, and the company that arranged their marriage, are not what they seem at all.
At thirty-three years old, Anne doesn’t quite have the life she expected. Oh, the job, friends, and book deal is all there–but the guy isn’t. When Anne breaks up with her boyfriend, fate takes a funny twist and she ends up contacting Arranged, a company Anne believes is a dating/match-making service, but it turns out Arranged is more than that–it’s actually an arranged marriage service. Even with the miscommunication, Anne can’t help her intrigue and wonders if maybe the arranged marriage service could work for her.
Anne is not exactly a unique character in stories. She’s a successful thirty-something who seems to manage to have her life together in every aspect except the dating arena. She’s a writer getting ready to publish her first book. She’s named after a literary character(Anne of Green Gables). She has red hair. She has a best friend who’s recently announced her engagement. Books and romantic comedies are filled with characters like Anne.
It’s precisely because of the the character type that Anne falls into that I expected the rest of Arranged to be just as cliche, but for the most part it wasn’t. The book got off to a slow start, but once Anne had committed to going through the process with Arranged, I was curious. Arranged marriages aren’t often portrayed in fiction, and when they are it tends to be portrayed as a cultural-specific. Arranged offer a fresh look at arranged marriage, marriages in general, and relationships precisely because the characters who decided to use Arranged’s services had a variety of reasons.
Once Anne has committed to Arranged, she marries Jack, another New York writer. Arranged’s philosophy on marriage is about a union of friendship, not necessarily romantic love, but as Anne and Jack get to know each other, Anne finds the spark of romance alive and well anyway. Together, they attempt to navigate this weird marriage-turned friendship-turned maybe love anyway thing.
Whereas the first half of Arranged is spent primarily on Anne and her past relationships, the second half of the book focuses on Anne’s new marriage and what that actually means to her life. Because of the discrete nature of Arranged, Anne finds herself having to lie to her family about how she really married Jack, as well as deal with their reactions, but it’s not exactly perfect in marital paradise.
I found this section of Arranged to be the strongest part of the book. Whereas the first half was a little slow, I flew through the second half, eager to gobble up the rest of Anne’s story. Somewhere along the way, her character began to feel less like a cliche and more real. I began to become emotionally invested in her story, including the highs and the lows. When things went bad, I felt for her. When things went her way, I cheered. I was ready to leave Arranged on a high note.
Unfortunately, however, that high note was soured by the ending. It’s obvious from the synopsis that something happens after Anne and Jack get married, and I thought the way that particular issue was explored was fascinating. There was so much of Arranged that could have been cliche, including Anne’s character, but along the way it became something unique and fresh. I was captivated.
Then the ending occurred, and it was the most routine, easy way the story could have ended. I couldn’t believe that this book–the same book that had taken the 30-something redhead writer character and made her feel new and fresh, the same book that had pushed limits of romantic conventions and was unafraid to explore new territory–ended the way it did. It felt cheated and sloppy, like the entire book up to that point had been a Broadway production and then for the last two chapters switched to suddenly being a freshman high school play. While it didn’t make me hate everything that had come previously, I did put down Arranged with a feeling of unsettled disappointment.
Despite the cliche main character, I really enjoyed Arranged. . . up to the ending. While I didn’t let it spoil the entire book for me, it definitely dropped my final rating down a few pegs. 3/5 cupcakes.