This could very easily have been a clichéd story of a younger woman and her sugar mama. And yet it’s not. Leigh Hays took all the easy clichés and turned them on their head.
Neither Madison nor Jen expected a wedding hookup, and neither expected that hookup to have the potential for more. The fourteen-years age gap isn’t the most significant impediment to the relationship they both yearn for as much as Madison’s (justified) trust issues or Jen’s tendency to prioritise everyone else’s well-being over hers.
In Providence, Hays’s debut novel (which takes place in the same universe), what I loved most was the way the whole power dynamics changed as the characters’ relationship evolved. This second novel also is about how power dynamics make or break a relationship, but in a very different way.
Everything when Jen and Madison first meet goes against them being equals. Madison is younger by enough years to make a real difference, she comes from an abusive background, her previous long-term relationship left her very wary. Jen is confident because she has never had any reason not to be. She’s used to power and knows how to navigate it. As a separated mother as well as in her professional life, she’s used to being in charge and fixing problems.
It may be premature to write this about an author who has only published two books so far, but if there’s one thing Leigh Hays can write, it’s chemistry. Scorching chemistry leads to a fantastic night of sex when Madison and Jen meet at Jen’s niece’s wedding but there’s more than sex to that chemistry. It’s the emotional chemistry that keeps bringing them back to each other.
Both Jen and Madison are complex, they’re fallible in ways that make them relatable. The secondary characters are well-thought too, from Madison’s family to Jen’s soon-to-be ex-wife and their son Carter and his friends (including a young trans boy, with a minor but significant role).
Even if I wondered, for a while, where the story was going, which prevented me from being as entirely carried away as I had been when reading Providence, I definitely enjoyed it a whole lot. I always feel there’s extra pressure on second novels, and even though I didn’t love this one as much as I loved Hays’s debut, it clearly confirms that she is an author to watch out for. No pressure, but I’m already excited for the third one.