Two of my favorite things in the world are craft beer and books. On the last Thursday of every month I pair a book I love with a pint to sip while reading it.
At some point a few months ago, my friend Julia gushed about how much she enjoyed Sally Thorne’s The Hating Game. Then at my local writers conference in September, Sarah MacLean told me she loved it. Then my friend Lindsay read it, and sent around a message saying we had to discuss it. Clearly, with all this prodding I moved it to the top of my to-be-read list. And while we’re talking lists– it’s worth nothing that the novel was in the top ten of Goodread’s Choice Awards for romance and named one of NPR’s best books of 2016. A good book to round out my 2016 Books & Brews series, I suppose!
The premise of the story is classic, bitter work rivals who can’t stand each other, until eventually they start to piece together that maybe they very much can. An enemies-to-lovers story, if you will. Main characters Lucy Hutton and Josh Templeman are executive assistants for co-CEOs of a large publishing house who have a daily routine of disdain for each other. Things get complicated when they are forced to compete for a promotion. And even more complicated when the facade of hate starts to crumble.
Here what I loved about the book:
The dialogue: It’s edgy and snappy without taking you out of the story. Clearly there are a lot of verbal barbs thrown around in a book called The Hating Game. It could get old, but it doesn’t. It could also veer into bizarre and unnatural sounding in an effort to make each spar different and unique, but Thorne avoids that as well.
The pitch perfect tension: Obviously some of this tension is in that excellently written dialogue between Lucy and Josh, as well as in their nonverbal communication when they are in the office. But there’s also this beautifully volatile feeling about pretty much the whole story, right up until the end. As the story progresses, it morphs from the actual angry tension between the characters, to you as a reader waiting for the next big thing to happen. You can feel the tension winding, and winding, but you can’t figure out exactly when it is going to release or exactly what is going to explode. Because of that you can’t predict the trajectory of the story.
The little details that tell big truths: This is one of those books that I believe the longer I think about it, the more nuanced I will realize it was. For example, Lucy is quirky and lively and well-liked in the office. She dresses in bright clothes and coordinates the monthly birthday celebration for staff meetings. Josh is uptight and quiet– typically feared by the other employees in the publishing house. He wears the same five shirts, in the same order every week. However, Lucy’s apartment is sparse, messy, and completely undecorated. Void of personality. Josh’s is warm, well furnished, painted. Neat but well lived-in. Their personal space is the polar opposite of their surface personalities– which hints at some of each of their deeper truths. So well done.
My perfect pairing for The Hating Game is Dogfish Head’s Beer for Breakfast. The novel is all about unexpected connections and the beer hits the same notes on a couple of levels. First, in name alone– beer is not a typical choice for a breakfast beverage. Second, in the recipe. Beer for Breakfast is a stout brewed with coffee, maple syrup, spices, and … scrapple. In case you’re not familiar with scrapple, it’s sort of like a meatloaf made with pork scraps and trimmings (read: organs) and is often served fried. It’s not an ingredient that would typically be added to beer. The result is a coffee stout with a pleasant smoky aftertaste. You get a little bit of the maple sweetness in the middle, but it’s not cloyingly sweet. For all the things going on in this beer it’s surprisingly well-balanced. Just as two sworn enemies come together to make an engaging, though not overly sweet, love story in The Hating Game.