Taking Him Down by Meg Maguire

September 30, 2013 Contemporary, Reviews 4

Book cover for Taking Him Down by Meg Maguire. A shirtless, sweaty, dark skinned white man is crouched down with his taped-up left hand tugging at the waistband of a pair of workout pants worn by a white woman wearing a sports bra.Matchmaker Lindsey Tuttle is going through a rough patch in life. After moving to Boston from western Mass with her newly-minted lawyer fiance, she’s neither engaged nor sure if her relationship’s worth the effort any more. When the cocky, gorgeous, MMA fighter Rich Estrada kicks their ongoing flirtation up a notch, Lindsey doesn’t bother trying to fight the attraction between them. Just as things are heating up in the back of a cab, a text message stops Rich cold, leaving Lindsey wondering what went wrong.

Nearly a year after that night in the cab, Rich still thinks about Lindsey. He may be thousands of miles away in San Diego, training for his first big championship fight, but he can’t help but wonder: What would’ve happened if her friend hadn’t texted him to say she had a live-in boyfriend? When a broken foot sends him back to Boston to recover, he gets another chance to see what, if anything, is going on with him and the sexy little matchmaker.

There was an awful lot that I liked about this book. I really dug the sexual tension between Lindsey and Rich, and how how they were sorta friends but never platonic. There’s this great playful, intimate vibe to Rich and Lindsey’s interactions that’s both hot as hell and totally adorable. Their first kiss in the back of the cab is a great example of this.

She was staring. They were both staring, though the pointedness of it didn’t seem to unnerve Rich a jot. Then again, he routinely peered into the eyes of men hell-bent on knocking him unconscious.

“What?” she asked, unable to bear the suspense.

“I dunno. Were we about to kiss?”

Her heart pounded. “Oh. I didn’t think we were. I was just staring because you were staring.”

“I was waiting for some little female signal. But your poker face is stone-cold.”

Another thing I really liked was that she was in a relationship at the start of the book and its dissolution takes place on page without demonizing the ex. Lindsey comes with a past that made her who she is today without victimizing her, and that’s sort of a rarity in romance. I enjoyed the working-class setting, but can’t tell if Maguire really showed what Rich’s neighborhood looked like, since I live where it’s set, and thus know too much. Suffice to say, the book takes place in the sort of community white suburbanites flippantly term “the ghetto.” It’s the home of triple-deckers, immigrant families and porch railings festooned with Direct TV dishes. Baby likes.

Unfortunately, I really didn’t like the depression/suicide thread.

Rich’s father had been a small man, in both stature and character. He’d been crippled by a depression Rich had found alternately heartbreaking and infuriating. He knew the depression had come about because the man mourned his homeland, his culture, his identity. But that didn’t make it okay.

Rich’s sympathy had run out at puberty. He’d gotten lucky, though, and stumbled into boxing, a pastime built for seething young men looking for the next best thing to hauling off and punching their fathers in the face.

While I understand Rich’s reaction to his father’s suicide being an angry one, I wanted to see something in the narrative challenge his framing depression as a character flaw and sign of weakness. Otherwise it’s just using a stereotype/stigma as a cheap source of angst and drama to make Rich more interesting. It really unnerved me.

I felt jerked around a bit by the pacing. The build up to the cab took two chapters, then the book jumps ahead 10 months. Then there’s a couple weeks in Boston where they knock boots, then he has to go back to San Diego to train, so they break up. Then like two days later he’s back in Boston and all “Nevermind, I’ll fight outta Boston. HEA activate!” And the book just ends. Like the depression and suicide thread, the romantic conflict wasn’t given the space it needed, and so the ending felt rushed and unsatisfying.

Final Assessment: A working-class romance with three-dimensional characters and smoldering sexual tension and sex scenes, but a problematic take on mental illness and uneven pacing leaves this far from being the author’s best work. C

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Ridley

An ice hockey fan from north of Boston and the genre's most beloved troll, Ridley enjoys reading contemporary and historical romance, as well as the odd erotica novel. As someone who uses a wheelchair, she takes a particular interest in disability themes.

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4 Responses to “Taking Him Down by Meg Maguire”

  1. Laura Vivanco

    I re-read the quote a few times and eventually I managed to come up with a second way of reading

    Rich’s father had been a small man, in both stature and character. He’d been crippled by a depression Rich had found alternately heartbreaking and infuriating.

    It’s certainly “framing depression as a character flaw and sign of weakness” if you read those two sentences as being related to one another (i.e. as though there’s a colon in between them instead of a full stop) and that’s the way I’d tend to read it. However, it did occur to me that if the paragraph is a quick synopsis of various aspects of the father’s character, they could conceivably be intended to be unrelated (i.e. I mentally rewrote the sentences so that they looked like a list with bullet-points).

    If there’s more about the father and his depression, though, that probably clarifies which of the two interpretations is more likely.

    Have you read Julia Quinn’s To Sir Phillip, with Love? The opening scene made me feel simultaneously miserable and very angry because of the way it treated a character who’s depressed and suicidal.

  2. Roslyn Holcomb

    I don’t know how old this character is, but it can be very hard to see your parents as people and I imagine if my parent committed suicide my internal monologue would probably run much along the same lines. I think it’s one thing to know better intellectually. To know depression is a disease and not a character flaw, but as a child you still feel abandoned. I was nearly forty when my mother died. She’d known she had a lump in her breast for quite some time before she revealed it. I know the fears that kept her silent, but I still can’t help being pissed off as all hell for the years of life she could’ve had. Is it right to feel this way? Of course not, but it is what it is. That feeling of being abandoned doesn’t go away and it’s been more than a decade and I’m still pissed. Irrational? Of course, especially given my background in social services, but yeah the feeling is still there.

  3. Ridley

    @Laura Vivanco: This excerpt from the book later on kind of removed any doubt for me.

    “What…what happened to your dad? He died young, it sounds like.”

    Rich stood, doing a very poor imitation of apathy as he stretched his injured leg.

    “He shot himself.”

    She shivered. “Oh.”

    He looked her in the eyes, deepening the chill. “And before that, he was a pitiful waste of space. If he thought his family was better off without him, he was right.”
    She felt herself recoiling, wanting to curl up and protect herself from his callousness. It wasn’t directed at her, but it unnerved her all the same. She and Rich were friends, though their sexual attraction had been more potent than their platonic bond. They were close, but not on a level that let her know how to relate to him now. And she imagined that was the point. He’d put a wall up between them, and not by mistake.

    “I’m sorry if your dad…sucked.”

    He huffed a silent laugh and shook his head, as though he could think of no word harsh enough to adequately disparage the man. Then he spoke, contradicting his expression slightly. “He was a gentle guy, at least. I’ll give him that much.” He took a seat once more, one step closer to Lindsey.

    Rich’s reaction makes sense to me, as the people left behind by suicide often react with anger because they feel abandoned or otherwise given up on, but I wasn’t ok with how Maguire just left it unchallenged. I’m left wondering if I’m supposed to see Rich’s reaction as rational as well as emotional.

  4. Laura Vivanco

    Hm. I’d not have a problem with that because it’s not saying that the depression made him the “pitiful waste of space.” I can’t help but think of this through my experience of having someone in the family who was endlessly manipulative and I think it was because of her personality, not a result of her depression or alcoholism. She seemed to enjoy needling people and getting them upset.

    I’m probably reading too much of my own feelings/circumstances into it. And the other thing I feel about that rant of his is that by not challenging it, the author validates the possibility that people might not love even close family members and that this is not necessarily something that needs to be fixed (as happens in some romances, in which, on the grounds that “they’re family” the heroine forgives her father/brother/mother/sister who have done horrible things to her or forces the hero to forgive his father/brother/mother/sister who’s done horrible things to him.) Like I said, though, I’m probably transferring too much onto the text.