Published by Gallery Books on 18th January 2022
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Violet Townsend has always been a people pleaser. Raised in the privileged world of Upper East Side Manhattan, she always says the right things, wears the right clothes, and never rocks the boat. Violet would do anything for the people closest to her, especially her beloved grandmother.
So when she asks Violet to teach the newly-discovered grandson of her friend how to fit in with New York City’s elite, Violet immediately agrees. Her goal? To get Cain Stone ready to take his place as heir to his family company…but to say he’s not exactly an eager student is an understatement.
Born and raised in rural Louisiana and now making his own way in New Orleans, Cain Stone is only playing along for the paycheck at the end. He has no use for the grandmother he didn’t know existed and no patience for the uppity Violet’s attempts to turn him into a suit-wearing, museum-attending gentleman.
But somewhere amidst antagonistic dinner parties and tortured tux fittings, Cain and Violet come to a begrudging understanding—and the uptight Violet realizes she’s not the only one doing the teaching. As she and Cain begin to find mutual respect for one another (and maybe even something more), Violet learns that blindly following society’s rules doesn’t lead to happiness…and that sometimes the best things in life come from the most unexpected places.
My Fair Lady/Pygmalion is what ‘Made in Manhattan’ is: Lauren Layne is pretty upfront about that in the blurb of the story, which seems curiously shorter than a full-length novel and for that reason, feels like a shortened, more undeveloped version of the more richly-layered original.
The trajectory, given that this is well-worn territory, is a predictable one, though no less enjoyable, especially since this is a role-reversal of an upper-crust socialite and a seemingly uncouth, brash man whom she’s tasked with giving a makeover. But Violet Townsend’s mission to change someone somehow retains enough transformative power that she finds herself changed in the end while finding love on the way.
The spirit of Pygmalion burns bright in this one, and with this role reversal that Layne uses, thankfully helps tip the construction of masculinity and impropriety on its head. Yet that kind of cute feminist lean is also muted; Violet still seems disappointingly ambition-less, determinedly running the errands of her mentor and adopted family member, who also happens to be the matriarch of a well-established corporation.
The build-up hence, consists of a few questions asked about cosmetic vs. intrinsic human qualities as Violet/Cain get ready together for the ultimate corporate takeover. That’s also overlaid with memorable one-line-zingers uttered by characters at very opportune moments–that do at times, cut to the heart of character insecurities.
That said, stock characters (keeping in line with stereotypical rom-com characters) in fact, help prop the story, as ‘Made in Manhattan’ keeps its jaunty tune throughout with minimal angst. A rushed ending without much fanfare deflated my enthusiasm somewhat after the slow burn, as the narrative focus on Violet simply positions Cain as a more shadowed version of a clichéd protagonist who made a sudden, huge leap from defiant, uncouth lout to jaw-clenching, lovesick man.
Still, it’s a read that’s so easy to go through–as Layne’s books generally are–, offering some precious hours of escapist fantasies especially if I don’t think too much more about it past its conclusion. But brevity is what I sometimes frown on, especially because it seems to compromise a plot hurtling towards a quick, duct-taped end. Even as Violet/Cain basked in their HEA, I couldn’t help but wish that the last few chapters offered something more substantial than a few lost looks and fleeting emotional exchanges that hindered rather than helped their relationship.