The Decent Proposal Review
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Relationships are tricky business. It’s hard to figure out where to meet a potential partner, how to make the first move, and how to gauge the other person’s feelings. But in author Kemper Donovan’s debut romance, The Decent Proposal, the groundwork is already laid for one unlikely pair.

The story brings two very different people together for the sake of a whole lot of money. Elizabeth Santiago is a hard-working, nose-to-the-grindstone kind of lawyer whose billable hours put everyone else at her firm to shame. Richard Baumbach is a struggling filmmaker whose career is in a downward spiral. They never would have met if it weren’t for the proposal that they receive from a mysterious benefactor: if they’ll agree to meet for two hours every week for a year, they’ll split a million dollars. And that proposal changes everything for Richard and Elizabeth—and their closest friends, too.

The Decent Proposal offers a kind of modern-day look at arranged relationships. Of course, there’s nothing in the agreement that says that Richard and Elizabeth have to get married—or even like each other—but the arrangement does force them to spend time together, talking about any topic they’d like. There aren’t any games here—no trying to figure out if the other person wants another date. There will be a second date...and a third...and a fourth. So, without the pressure and expectations, the two are allowed to let go and be themselves—for better or for worse.

The characters see their arrangement in different ways. For Elizabeth, it’s a way to try out dating—something she’s never really done before. She has no intention of falling for Richard, so she can use him for practice before attempting to start a real relationship in the future. Richard, meanwhile, is just in it for the money—but he soon finds that, without the pressure, he can open up to Elizabeth and talk about the things that he can’t discuss with his friends.

But there’s more to the story than just Richard and Elizabeth. In fact, the two main characters aren’t especially interesting on their own. It’s their friendships that make them interesting—Elizabeth’s relationship with a troubled homeless man named Orpheus and Richard’s relationship with ex-girlfriend Mike, who doesn’t understand her feelings for Richard until Elizabeth comes along.

And, of course, it all revolves around one mysterious connection—the anonymous benefactor who’s eventually tracked down and confronted. But the revelation seems to come a little too early, and the character’s story and connection to the couple doesn’t feel especially natural. And it brings an otherwise intriguing novel to a rather strange and hazy conclusion.

The Decent Proposal isn’t the typical romantic comedy. In fact, in many ways, it’s more of an anti-rom-com. And, despite the story’s flaws, that’s what makes it a thoughtful and entertaining study in personalities and relationships.

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