Wednesday, February 9, 2022

Book Review: The Arc

By Jami Denison

Romance continues to be the bestselling genre in fiction, ranging from Victorian-era stories about Lords and Ladies to contemporary tracts featuring multiracial and gender-fluid protagonists. But every romance asks the same question: What does it take to get to happily-ever-after? Over the years, the answers have varied dramatically.

In her debut novel The Arc, author Tory Henwood Hoen merges the worlds of dating apps, New Age culture, and 23andMe-type testing into a matchmaking service that is guaranteed (although not monetarily) to find someone their perfect match. Costing only $40,500 for women and $50,000 for men (the difference is to account for the wage gap), The Arc’s proprietary methods will finally deliver that Prince Charming or Cinderella. Does the promise of perfection make the relationship easier or harder?

Branding expert Ursula is 35, committed to her career, and vomiting on internet first dates when she learns about The Arc. Skeptical at first, she comes up with the money after hearing of one “happily ever after.” And when she first meets estate lawyer Rafael, he does seem perfect for her. It’s love at first sight, but is it built to last? When conflict rears its ugly head, this “perfect match” might be anything but.

The Arc is written in that light romcom tone familiar to readers of the genre, but the questions it brings up are anything but frivolous—and not always addressed. Although the Arc asks Ursula if she’d be willing to leave the country if her match was overseas, luckily, he was as close as the Upper East Side. (Ursula has her own cute pad in Brooklyn.) The possibility that he isn’t an Arc member at all is never discussed, nor is the question of what happens if the perfect match doesn’t have $50,000 to spend for love. Is true love reserved only for members of the upper class? Neither Ursula nor Rafael considers these points. 

When things get a little bumpy, Ursula and Rafael are stunned: They’re supposed to be perfect for each other! More than that, together they’ve sunk almost $100,000 into the relationship! Would they really be fighting if they were meant to be together? And should they stick it out because of all the money they spent? These are questions that Ursula and Rafael do ask, and they are not unique to folks who’ve spent thousands of dollars on dating apps. (I did wonder why the question of couples counseling never came up.)

Despite its warm, light tone, there were times when the writing didn’t work for me. Hoen spends pages and pages on the couple’s back stories—I know more about Ursula’s mother than I do my own—at times bringing the narrative to a grinding halt. I surmised she wanted to give readers insight into the characters to explain why they handled conflict the way they did, but I found myself skimming those pages. Similarly, the several chapters describing the beginning of the relationship were so cotton-candy sweet and conflict-free, I wanted to skip over those, too. And I was jarred when, after spending the first ten chapters in Ursula’s (third-person) point-of-view, chapter 11 opened in Rafael’s. I literally had to close the book to make sure I was still reading The Arc. (I read on a Kindle, and this has happened before.)

Still, while the book has its shortcomings, its take on how couples fight and what they fight about makes it worth the read. The Arc is a modern spin on a timeless tale. If you want a night off from your latest internet match, stay in and read it.*

(*Disclaimer: This reviewer met her husband on and therefore thinks dating apps are well worth it.)

Thanks to St. Martin's Press for the book in exchange for an honest review.

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