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thoughtlessThoughtless by SC Stephens
Thoughtless #1

Simon & Schuster UK 2012
Trade Paperback
530 pages

Kiera Allen met Denny Harris, a brilliant student from Queensland, at Ohio University. Now she’s going with the handsome, loving Denny to Seattle, where she’s transferred to Washington State University for her third year, and Denny has a promising internship at a high-profile advertising agency. Denny’s arranged for them to live with his old friend Kellan Kyle, whose family he lived with for a year of high school on an exchange program.

Kellan is the lead singer of a local rock band called The D-Bags (for “douche-bag”). He’s devastatingly attractive and a real slut (not that I like to use the word, but “womaniser” just doesn’t capture his style of sleeping around – the English language is sadly lacking in some ways). His band plays regularly at a place called Pete’s Bar, where Kiera gets a waitressing job on her first night in Seattle – which will help with the bills and to fill time, since it’s only June and the school year doesn’t start for three months.

When Denny has to leave Seattle for three weeks to help set up a new branch of his company in Tucson, Kiera is devastated. They’ve never been apart for more than a couple of days before. She turns to her fledgling friendship with Kellan, who makes her blush constantly, and willingly and deliberately, if not consciously, treats him like a boyfriend minus the intimate stuff. Holding his hand, cuddling with him on the couch; Kiera has no clue of the mixed messages she’s giving out. She just misses Denny.

After several days of phone silence, Denny finally calls – to say that the company has offered him a job, but it means staying in Tucson for two years. What’s worse, he’s already accepted it, without discussing it with her. In a fit of despair, anger and panic at being abandoned in Seattle, Kiera tells him it’s over and hangs up on him, then starts drinking. When Kellan comes home, he brings out tequila slammers, and Kiera gets completely drunk. What happens next changes everything.

The next day, Denny comes home: he’s turned the job down and lost his internship, and Kiera feels immense guilt at ruining his career just as it was going good, and for sleeping with his best friend. She vows that it will never happen again, and she and Kellan both agree never to tell Denny. But the attraction between her and Kellan only grows in intensity, and Kiera learns never to say never again.

Ha ha, I couldn’t resist that corny last line. It’s well in keeping with the entire novel, which is a huge soap opera cheesefest. And I have to say how much I hate this cover. It’s dark and dull, yes, but what really bugs me is the photo – aside from being ugly, I can’t for the life of me figure it out. The body parts just don’t make sense. I don’t know what I’m looking at. And it’s just plain seedy. It was originally self-published in 2009, and based on its success was picked up by Simon & Schuster. I don’t know how much editing was done, but I’ve seen that the e-book was over a thousand pages long, and this is half that – a difference in font size or cutting back on over-writing? (Another review of a different edition noted it’s page length at 364 pages, a significant difference. Are we reading the same book?)

It’s hard to know where I start, with a book like this. It reminded me of Jennifer Schmidt’s Risking it All, which I read recently – it also featured a “love triangle” and a main character who didn’t want to risk her friendship with the hot guy or being alone and so avoided making a decision and acting mature, which only made things worse. The difference though is in the writing quality, and how the events played out, and how responsibility was doled out and taken. It was a much more mature story, in all ways, though certainly lower on the angst scale.

Contrast that with Kiera, who narrates Thoughtless. I’m willing, just, to suspend disbelief that such a dim-witted, naive, “innocent” (how I loathe the word!) twit could exist, though with a sister like Anna, and living in the 21st century, well, I have to really suspend disbelief. She’s worse than Anastasia, which is saying a lot. She thinks “damn” is a swear word, blushes at Kellan’s band mates’ stories of their sexual exploits (Griffin is a chauvinist pig, but disgust would be a better emotion towards him), but worst of all is her behaviour towards Kellan. I actually felt sorry for the guy, and really very angry towards her. He does tell it to her face later on, calling her a prick tease and other colourful expressions, and she does finally admit to it and apologise for it.

I was relieved that [Kellan] was happy to stay over by me. I started to wonder over that, but then decided he was pleasant to be around, and not too bad to look at, and that was a good enough answer for right now. Besides, I had been so lonely lately and, right or wrong, his closeness was making that feeling fade.

Relaxing for the first time in what felt like weeks, I turned and slipped my arms around his waist, resting my head against his chest. I felt him stiffen a little at how closely we were connected, and then he relaxed too, his thumb lightly stroking my back. I wasn’t sure why I did that, but I sighed contentedly at the warmth of his embrace. [p.88]

And after their fateful night, after Denny’s come back:

Purely intending to give him a hug, as he seriously looked in need of one, I leaned over his chest, bringing my hands underneath him. He radiated warmth, but he was trembling, breathing shallowly. He left his arms on the couch, not returning my hug. His body stiffened slightly. Sighing softly, I remembered how easy and comfortable touching him used to be … Apparently, that was gone now too. I pulled back a little, to ask him if he needed anything.

My breath stopped when I noticed his face, his eyes. He looked pained, like I was hurting him. His eyes were gazing past my shoulder, intently focused on anything but me, and they were narrowed in anger. His breathing was shallow and fast through his open lips. I immediately let go of him. [p.139]

The problem with having such a detail-oriented narrator is that, she notices all these little details, but can’t interpret them. That was my problem with Kiera, and with the writing. There was no subtle space for readers to understand and interpret more than Kiera, because really, Kiera KNEW. She knew bloody well what she was doing, and why Kellan behaved as she did, because she had already picked up on ALL the clues. She just chose to blind herself to the truth. Essentially the whole fiasco could have been avoided if Kiera hadn’t made stupid decision after stupid decision, including not trusting or respecting Denny, and thinking that if she just has more time, she’ll have the courage to make a decision. By the end, I wondered what the hell either man saw in her. Sure, she’s only human and a flawed character makes for a good, interesting character. It wasn’t her flaws that angered me, it was her “selfish disregard for the feelings of others” (to quote a much better love story).

In contrast, Denny was lovely, though his depiction as the ultimate cuckolded partner completely smothered any personality he might have had. He occasionally comes out with some Queenslandisms (sure they’re called Australian expressions in the book, but let’s face it, Queenslanders have plenty of their own weird colloquialisms and I didn’t recognise most of them here), but thankfully Stephens doesn’t overdo the whole Australian angle. Kellan is fairly two-dimensional, but he did become interesting after telling Kiera the story of his abused childhood and why he sleeps around – Kiera doesn’t deserve him, and I couldn’t blame him for trying to sever things with her, multiple times. I find I don’t care for love stories in which love is an addiction, something characters succumb to despite themselves, something they feel they have to fight, and “beat”, something tainted with lies and betrayal. But it does make for some epic angst-riddled soap.

And that’s what this book is: a soap opera of epic proportions. It’s minutely detailed with day-to-day living and each little bit of body language (as you can see from the quotes above), which I normally like, but it goes way overtop with the details, many of which are quite superfluous and only slow the story down. It’s also epic in the sense of the drama, which is, frankly, completely over-the-top. No one behaves very well in this story, they all come across as pretty immature, and the mis-communications and mis-understandings are some of the only things driving the plot forward – which isn’t a good thing. The degree of angst is hard to believe, but I will tell you this: it is hugely addicting. I now have a better understanding of why reality TV and drama shows like Grey’s Anatomy are so popular, not that I could watch them. For as much of a train wreck as Kiera’s life is, I just had to keep reading to find out how it would end.

As engrossing as it was, it was hugely bogan, and the attitudes towards women portrayed by some of the characters – and Kiera’s silent acceptance of them as normal – was pretty appalling (the men – oafish, arrogant, chauvinist, etc. – weren’t portrayed that much better, to be honest). Not to mention, the contrast between “innocent” Kiera and her “harlot” of a sister, Anna, was alarming. The idea that the “good” girl always wins – never mind all the crap that went on, the fact that she is essentially depicted as a “good” girl; that only good girls can have real relationships or the commitment of a loving man, is a clear message. Kiera has to grow up and face her mistakes, free the men and become “good” again – atone for her sins with a bout of loneliness etc. – before she can have what she really wants.

I rated this based mostly on how addictive it is, but let’s be clear: it’s not a particularly well-written book, the characters make me want to pull my hair out, and I really can’t see the point in a sequel (Effortless) – why on earth would I want to read more, especially after the issue has been resolved? What plot could there be, really? I think a more satisfying and mature ending for Thoughtless would be for Kellan to move on and find love with a different woman, because the things that those two went through, I don’t know how a committed, trusting relationship could really arise out of that train wreck.


Other Reviews:

“Im looking forward to reading Effortless, the second book in the series and would recommend this to readers who enjoy intense, tragically doomed relationships with bittersweet happily ever afters.” Tina’s Book Reviews

“The story and the characters are captivating, and the writing is exceptional. It’s a story of love, friendship, betrayal, hope, and forgiveness.” Bookish Temptations

“…this book has climbed right to the top of my list of favorites this summer and made itself cozy there. I can’t seem to kick the characters out of my head, where they’ve taken up residence.” A Turn of Page

“There is A LOT of drama to this story. Lots of crying, anger and sex. But at it’s core, we have two people who have found their soul mate and need to build their relationship. Could they have gone about this a different way. Absolutely. But given how young Kiera is and how mess up Kellan is, you knew from the beginning this wasn’t going to be easy. It wasn’t. But when we come out on the other side, Kiera and Kellan learn a lot about themselves and what they need from each other in order to have a relationship that works.” Cocktails and Books

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