When is the last time you came across a category romance written in the
first person? Frankly, I can’t remember any, but then I’m pretty
selective about my series reading. Beverly Bird is one author I almost
always read and I admit that I was surprised to discover that she had
chosen to pen Playing by the Rules as a first person narrative.
I have to say that her effort pays off. By having her heroine, Mandy
Hillman, relate the tale of her complex relationship with Sam Case, Bird
provides real insight into the problems women face as they try to
navigate the “postmodern” world of romance.
Mandy is a successful divorce lawyer, a Philadelphia lawyer no less.
She is also a single mother. Seven years ago she found herself
accidentally pregnant. She knew that her then significant other,
Millson Kramer III, was not good husband material, despite his social
prominence and money. So she and Mill signed an agreement. She
wouldn’t ask for child support; he wouldn’t have anything to do with Chloe.
Mandy has since devoted almost all of her energy to her career and to
raising her daughter. She doesn’t date much but she is not without male
company. Her neighbor and fellow lawyer, Texan Sam Case, has become her
best friend and Chloe’s pal. They spend lots of time together and enjoy
each other’s company. Then Sam comes up with a wild idea. He is tired
of the casual dating scene while Mandy is tired of the non-dating scene.
Why don’t they add sex to their relationship? It won’t be a romance;
it will be an arrangement with agreed upon rules: no sleepovers; no
sharing of toothbrushes; no need to check in; no jealousy; no falling in
love. Just friendship plus sex.
Of course, as we all know, rules are made to be broken.
The plot thickens when Mill arrives back on the scene. He is planning
to run for political office; Kramers do that sort of thing. He realizes
that having abandoned his child at birth will not look good to the
voters, so he sues for custody of Chloe. Sam agrees to represent Mandy
in the law case. So Mandy not only has to worry about her changing
relationship with Sam; she has to worry about keeping her beloved daughter.
Having Mandy narrate the story permits the reader to delve much more
deeply into the psyche of a contemporary, thirty-year old, single mother
and career woman. Since I fit none of those qualities, I cannot say for
sure how accurately Bird captures the challenges someone like Mandy
faces, but her fears and hopes and insecurities certainly rang true.
Bird effectively uses the device of having Mandy discuss her problems
with her two women friends, Grace and Jenny, each of whom has her own
take on Mandy’s situation.
Often, with a first person narrative, the other protagonist is less
clearly drawn than the narrator. This is the case here to some extent;
we cannot possibly know Sam as well as we know Mandy. Yet Bird succeeds
admirably in showing us why Mandy finds him so attractive and portrays
him sympathetically enough that we understand his motives and confusion.
As I noted above, Bird’s use of the first person succeeds admirably in
delineating the challenges that single women face in today’s brave new
world of relationships. She does such a good job that all I could do as
I closed the book was to agree with Maurice Chevalier: “I’m glad I’m not
young any more!”