By Ekta R. Garg

February 3, 2022

The Arc by Tory Henwood Hoen

Release date: February 8, 2022

Genre: Women’s fiction

Rated: Bypass it / 2 stars

Two attractive New Yorkers meet through an innovative dating service that guarantees a perfect match. As they navigate the start of a relationship, they discover that all the algorithms in the world can’t guarantee everything. In the end, they’ll have to work through the ups and downs of dating on their own.

Sounds like pretty good premise, right? That’s what I thought when I requested a review copy of The Arc. As I started reading, I realized that parts of it may have been written to go over the top on purpose. The main characters, Ursula and Rafael, let a fight about what kind of dog to adopt spiral into them questioning the very foundation of their relationship. A little extreme, I know, but I’ve been married for nearly 20 years. I understand how fights about dumb things can escalate into subjects that are important.

However, both Ursula and Rafael are supposed to be highly educated professionals. They’re smart, have close friends, and job security, the latter of which is really important in a cutthroat place like New York. The fact that they signed up for an elite matchmaking service didn’t make me bat an eye; not only does it seems very New York, it’s also very 21st-century dating. And I get it: Ursula is in her mid-30s, and Rafael is in his early 40s. They want to settle down.

As a reader and a reviewer, though, I just felt like the narrative was over-explaining everything all the time. Ursula would say something, and then the narrative would explain what she said. Rafael would feel something, and the narrative would explain what he felt. This didn’t happen every time, but it happened often enough that I started to wonder why the novel couldn’t just trust me to understand the situations on my own. They both have baggage; they’re both scared of getting hurt and being vulnerable. I get it already.

That fight about the dog is important, by the way; it takes Ursula and Rafael back to the Arc, which is the name of the matchmaking service. They meet with the founder who tells them in a solemn voice that maybe this means their relationship is headed for the dumps. They should get out now while they can.

I just shook my head at that. The service cost Ursula more than $40,000; it cost Rafael $50,000 (the price difference is to compensate for the gender pay gap.) In their first (individual) meetings with the founder of the Arc, Ursula and Rafael are both sold on the idea that this in-depth process of living in Arc headquarters for a week while they’re observed, questioned, and led through intense yoga sessions will pretty much guarantee the results. And now Dr. Vidal, the head, is shrugging her shoulders and say, “Oops, looks like we got it wrong”? Please.

It was pretty obvious to me what was going on at that point, but Ursula and Rafael don’t get it. Doubt sets in, they fight, they cry, they break up, they get back together, they learn stuff. It’s more or less a regular romance.

I have no problem with romance, by the way. I’m an old-world romantic at heart myself. But when I’m reading a book, I want my romance to come with characters who are smart all the way around. We all have blind spots in life, but they shouldn’t be the size of Everest. They shouldn’t block our view that much either.

I also understand that the book may have wanted to put a satirical spin on dating and matchmaking in our current times. I don’t think it made the leap all the way, though. The story scrabbles from time to time to get purchase on the idea that we all want a relationship to see us through to old age. This idea can be told through humor or grief or, yes, even satire, but if it chooses one of those routes, it has to be fully committed to it. It can’t start down one path and then change course part of the way through.

This book is a good example of individual elements working but not coming together with cohesion. And some parts of it just made me scratch my head. On their first date, Rafael wants to give Ursula a nickname. This might sound weird out of context, but in the book it sort of makes sense. They’ve both plunked down some serious cash for the matchmaking service and believe it will bring the best possible results. By the time they meet in person, they’re already about halfway in love with one another because they’re both in love with the idea of love.

In any case, they meet and Rafael gives Ursula a hug and makes a comment about how her hair smells like a kitten and reminds him of said kitten’s cuteness. Since Ursula has a kitten—Mallory Fantastica Byrne, in fact—this also makes sense. He references the cat’s tail, so he chooses to call her Tail Tip and then does so for the rest of their first date. In fact, at some point it’s almost like he’s looking for excuses to use her nickname and calls her by it way more often than a person would use someone else’s name in a normal conversation.

I don’t know about you, but to me that’s just weird.

The ending of the book also doesn’t fit with the rest of it. It’s cheesy on a level that doesn’t match what the book has been thus far. Like Hallmark-movie level. If the rest of the book were that cheesy, I wouldn’t mind it so much. During the breakup, Ursula and Rafael pine for one another in a way that’s on-brand for the Hallmark channel. It’s kind of bittersweet and relatable. But it feels like a section from a completely different book. The ending makes sense within the context of the Hallmark portion of the novel but not the first part.

It’s almost like author Tory Henwood Hoen started out writing in one genre and chose to switch two-thirds of the way through.

For all these reasons (and more that I’ll share in the weeks to come,) this book didn’t work for me. Many people liked it. I’m not one of them.

I did enjoy the characterization of New York in the novel, though. Hoen’s descriptions of her setting made me feel like I was right there, and I appreciated that she showcased parts of New York that were a little different from other books about the city. At the end of it all, I would have to say that the Big Apple was the real star in this novel. Ursula and Rafael don’t quite hit the mark for me, and I honestly couldn’t imagine recommending this book based on the occasional descriptions of the city. That’s why I have to tell readers to Bypass it.