Published by Berkley Books on 25th January 2022
Buy on Amazon
They were cowriting literary darlings until they hit a plot hole that turned their lives upside down.
Three years ago, Katrina Freeling and Nathan Van Huysen were the brightest literary stars on the horizon, their cowritten books topping bestseller lists. But on the heels of their greatest success, they ended their partnership on bad terms, for reasons neither would divulge to the public. They haven't spoken since, and never planned to, except they have one final book due on contract.
Facing crossroads in their personal and professional lives, they're forced to reunite. The last thing they ever thought they'd do again is hole up in the tiny Florida town where they wrote their previous book, trying to finish a new manuscript quickly and painlessly. Working through the reasons they've hated each other for the past three years isn't easy, especially not while writing a romantic novel.
While passion and prose push them closer together in the Florida heat, Katrina and Nathan will learn that relationships, like writing, sometimes take a few rough drafts before they get it right.
If you’re a lover of words, of meta and literary layers, then Nathan/Katrina’s story will be a dazzling experience of fiction mirroring fiction, and in a more abstract fashion, life mirroring art and vice versa. On the surface, not much happens in fact: Nathan and Katrina are estranged writers who, four years earlier split acrimoniously for reasons yet unknown and are back together (as unwillingly as possible) for another collaboration because the last time worked so well.
Their story plays out in parallel with constant time period switches in ‘what happened then’ versus ‘what is happening now’ and really, it’s like history returning with a vengeance because what wasn’t dealt with before naturally spilled over again.
Plot almost seems secondary to Wibberly’s need to explore the existential questions of separation, love denied and how it can turn to anger. There’s a lot of repressed longing in the whole book—they are co-writers but not lovers, and for most of the story that’s the way it remains as they’re never single to pursue each other in both time periods.
What follows as a result is a ton of repressed emotions that are either internally rationalised away or un-admitted desires that Nathan/Katrina can only make sense of by writing as code through the characters they create, then presenting these to each other like some secret confession that can’t ever be said aloud. Their lack of direct communication for much of the story is frustrating as it is ironic, given that theirs is the business of words and shaping fiction to look like reality because they’ve written so much of themselves in their books.
I loved ‘The Roughest Draft’ for the brilliantly meditative use of language, of sharp insight and nuanced characters who mercilessly plumb the depth of their emotions. The Wibberly duo have writing skills that—only if you’re a lover of words and literary studies—will twist and wrench you along with the angst and double-speak of these two tortured (and sometimes nasty) souls. But I also disliked it for the very reason I loved it for the exhausting merry-go-round of Nathan/Katrina’s stubbornness to simply have the courage to face things head on and then not go back and forth with uncertainty when it looked for a moment, as though they were finally headed somewhere promising. The result was a somewhat limp-ish ending that I thought could have been a more satisfying, explosive one from all that simmering tension that I’ve put myself through the entire read.
My review is one that comes from mixed feelings by the time I finished the last page. As much as I wanted Nathan and Katrina to sort themselves out, I couldn’t help but keep thinking that they’d simply wasted years and narrative space because of a basic inability to face things head-on. There was a point where I thought both needed badly to disengage from the use of literature and their drafts as a crutch-like metaphor for their relationship, yet Katrina seemed to hang onto that even to the very end when directness and perhaps, straight words were needed more than pretty ones. I’d keep a lookout for the Wibberly duo nonetheless, and fingers crossed that the next one I get my hands on would be an easier and less convoluting read.