Review: Unsticky by Sarra Manning
“We're broken. It's like we have all these jagged edges that scare other people off, but when we're with each other, our jagged edges fit together and we're almost whole.”
On paper, Sarra Manning's Unsticky has all the trappings of a novel I should hate: a wealthy man; a desperate, naive young women and an outlandish scenario throwing the two together.
And yet, it came highly recommended by Angie, whose taste is excellent and is very similar to my own. (also excellent) taste. And where other books with similar plots enrage me, Unsticky enthralled me. I lost sleep and fought through weary eyes to get through this captivating 550-page novel.
Grace is a recent almost-grad (there was an incident at her senior show that prevented her from actually graduating from college) who partied too hard, hooked up with too many losers, is drowning in debt and working in a dead end job at a fashion assistant at a magazine where she seems destined to never get her shot. Grace is not particularly likable, and she's certainly not an easy character. She makes bad decisions and doesn't own up to her self-created problems.
Being drunk really brought out her inner vicious bitch.
At one of her lowest moments, Grace meets Vaughn, an older--extremely wealthy art dealer--who has an intriguing, and disturbing proposition for her: in exchange for thousands per month, she'll be at his beck and call, host his parties, and be his arm candy whenever she's needed. Desperate for cash and in need of something--anything--different in her life, Grace signs a six-month agreement and she's quickly drawn into Vaughn's world of privilege and society.
Actually, Unsticky isn't what you think.
Quickly, a line blurs, and Vaughn and Grace's agreement gets complicated. They're both difficult, not-particularly-likable people, and yet there's something between them that works. They have a prickly sort of friendship that works. They also have chemistry, despite that even their sexual relationship is "just business." Sort of.
And that's where Grace's interesting internal conflict emerges. What is she? Employee? Friend? Prostitute? Because there's no doubt about it, she sold herself for money and clothes, but there's something real between she and Vaughn, though neither of them really understands that because they're both such emotional disasters. In a lot of ways, the dynamic between these two characters reminded me of Victoria and Eli from Molly O'Keefe's Can't Hurry Love. Like Victoria and Eli, Grace and Vaughn are using each other, and intellectually speaking, that's a disturbing, dysfunctional dynamic.
This thing with Vaughn wasn't built to last, but while it did, Grace felt as if it was giving her the potential to change; to be the Grace she wanted to be or at least, more like the Grace she wanted to be. It wasn't just the outside stuff, the spa-ing and the pretty clothes and the posh weekend breaks. It was being with a man like Vaughn who'd obviously seen something in her that she still couldn't see in herself. If she took her cues from Vaughn, let him guide her, got used to being in his world, then it would all rub off on her. She'd have that glossy patina that the posh girls, the successful girls, the sophisticated girls had that was nothing to do with how shiny their hair was but came from walking in a world which was always good to them.
Grace finds herself believing in this new version of herself, seeing that she's more than a mess of a career and a pile of debt. And Vaughn, despite his surly and difficult personality, seems to believe in Grace too.
Despite this, life gets very, very complicated for Grace.
The arrangement with Vaughn has extreme requirements. She has miss friends' (if you can call them that--Grace isn't so great at forging relationships) events and Christmas with the grandparents who raised her, all to be at Vaughn's beck and call. At one point, she becomes so ill with flu she can't get out of bed and yet she still has to "perform" at yet another one of Vaughn's meetings.
Grace stared at him for as long as it took until he turned away from the snowy vista and met her eyes. "I fucking hate you," she enunciated slowly and clearly.
Vaughn shrugged and his lips quirked maybe a half of a millimetre upwards. "I know," he said, sounding not the least bit surprised.
The bulk of Unsticky involves the question of what direction Grace will go in her life. Will she figure out how to stand up for herself--at work, with Vaughn? Will she figure out how to support herself or is she destined to be some guy's arm candy?
These questions are what differentiated Unsticky for me, compared to the million other iterations of this storyline.
Unsticky is really about broken, messed up people figuring out a way to make life work for them, as individuals first.
I honestly didn't care what the outcome of Grace and Vaughn's arrangement would ultimately be. Rather, as the story developed, I rooted for them as individuals. I hoped that Grace would figure out that she could be more; I hoped that Vaughn would realize that he is more than his money. If they could help one another do that, all the better.
"We're a good team, though neither of us is particularly house-trained, are we?"
She knew exactly what he meant. Despite their differences, because of their differences, they were a perfect mismatched set. Two sides of the same tarnished penny. An out-of-step Fred and Ginger. Vaugn was just as fucked up as she was--he was just so much better at hiding it.
It's hard to share much else about Unsticky without ruining Unsticky, which I highly recommend--particularly for readers looking for a meaty read with characters that challenge the notion of "likability" in favor of complex character development and emotional authenticity. With Unsticky, Manning has crafted a story that, well... sticks.*
FNL Character Rating: Tyra Collette
Note: While Sarra Manning's adult novels are only published in the U.K. (her YA fiction is published here), she recently self-published both Unsticky and You Don't Have to Say You Love Me for Kindle--complete with all the British-isms preserved.
*(I know, I'm hilarious with my puns.)