Title: The Charm Offensive
Author: Alison Cochrun
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Length: 368 Pages
Category: Contemporary Romance
Rating: 5 Stars
At a Glance: Every single thing these characters said and did during the course of what, to them, seemed like an impossible dream—their own happily ever after—was written with such care and an abundance of sensitivity. Alison Cochrun set out to write a romance novel that destigmatizes self-care, therapy, medication, and she did so in sweeping and beautiful scenes of empathy and compassion between her leading men.
Reviewed By: Lisa
Blurb: Dev Deshpande has always believed in fairy tales. So it’s no wonder then that he’s spent his career crafting them on the long-running reality dating show Ever After. As the most successful producer in the franchise’s history, Dev always scripts the perfect love story for his contestants, even as his own love life crashes and burns. But then the show casts disgraced tech wunderkind Charlie Winshaw as its star.
Charlie is far from the romantic Prince Charming Ever After expects. He doesn’t believe in true love, and only agreed to the show as a last-ditch effort to rehabilitate his image. In front of the cameras, he’s a stiff, anxious mess with no idea how to date twenty women on national television. Behind the scenes, he’s cold, awkward, and emotionally closed-off.
As Dev fights to get Charlie to connect with the contestants on a whirlwind, worldwide tour, they begin to open up to each other, and Charlie realizes he has better chemistry with Dev than with any of his female co-stars. But even reality TV has a script, and in order to find to happily ever after, they’ll have to reconsider whose love story gets told.
Review: “Reality” television is one of those things you either love, hate, love to hate, or hate to love. It’s always interesting to read a book that draws back the curtain on the illusion that reveals how scripted and edited these shows truly are, how competitive and cut-throat they can be, and how, in the case of Alison Cochrun’s profoundly touching debut novel The Charm Offensive, how the fairy tale is manipulated to fit a specific narrative in order to spoon-feed the fantasy to the viewing audience.
As a little boy, Dev Deshpande fell in love with the show Ever After in spite of never once seeing himself represented on-screen. More specifically, he fell in love with the idea of the happily ever after, with the dashing prince finding and falling in love with the beautiful princess, with the fairy tale that in a whirlwind nine weeks two people could meet, fall in love, and begin their forever together in front of television cameras on scripted dates and in prepared scenes. Dev believes in the illusion, he believes in the ever-after, believes in the concept of the show so much that he now works as a producer, and he’ll do anything—even if that means standing by and doing nothing—in order to ensure the show steamrolls forward to the final crowning of the princess by her dream prince.
He also believes a fairy tale kind of love is a reality for everyone else, but maybe not for him. Then all it took was a gorgeous, straight tech millionaire with OCD and generalized anxiety disorder to bring Dez’s fantasy crashing down around him and make him start to want.
Alison Cochrun explores mental health on a variety of fronts in this book, not only with the show’s “Prince Charming”, Charlie Winslow, but in Dev’s deep bouts of depression as well. She set out to write a romance novel that destigmatizes self-care, therapy, medication, and she did so in sweeping and beautiful scenes of empathy and compassion between her leading men—one of whom is only just beginning to explore his sexuality—as well as among the supporting cast. Charlie has an ulterior motive for agreeing to do the show after being fired from his own company when he spiraled into a debilitating panic attack during an important meeting. He needs to rehabilitate his reputation so he can find work in the tech industry again, after being thoroughly blackballed thanks to his former business partner and supposed friend. In short, Charlie’s trying to prove he’s “normal”, and witnessing him go through these series of epiphanies, both the big and the small, is such a wonder to read.
As Charlie’s “handler” on the show, the person there to make sure Charlie is polished, if not perfect, and to coach him through the rough spots, Dev offers Charlie something he’s never had before—support and respect and understanding—and in return, as painfully uncomfortable as it is for him, Charlie begins to open up to Dev. He shows Dev what kindness and patience and generosity look like, something Dev has never had much of before because he’s always tried to be “Fun Dev” in order not to burden others with his depression. Dev seemed to be living the Robin Williams quote about the saddest people trying their hardest to make people happy because they know what it’s like to feel worthless, and they don’t want anyone else to feel that way, which, of course, was ultimately unsustainable for him.
Every single thing these characters said and did during the course of what, to them, seemed like an impossible dream—their own happily ever after—was written with such care and an abundance of sensitivity. Alison Cochrun has penned a love story that is honest and candid in its representation of mental health and neurodiversity, and in the end, in the Ever After, it celebrates the diversity of love.
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