If I told you that The Ex Talk by Rachel Lynn Solomon was an “enemies-to-lovers workplace romance,” you’d probably think you’d know what to expect, right? Especially if I said that this was a fake relationship story as well? It’s a familiar, much-loved plot. (Many people’s favorite is The Proposal, but I’m partial to Someone Like You, weird cow subplot and all, because Hugh Jackman—well, because Hugh Jackman. What other reason do you need?) But what if I said this story isn't about faking being together, but faking breaking up?
Shay Goldstein is devoted to the public radio station where she works as a producer, but her dream is to host a show of her own. Still, she's mostly joking when she suggests, at a come-up-with-new-programming-because-we’re-a-sinking-ship meeting, that the station create a relationship program hosted by ex-lovers. She’s stunned when the program director loves the idea and wants Shay to host it along with the station’s new hotshot reporter, Dominic Yun. But Shay and Dominic disagree on everything. They can’t hold a civil conversation. And, oh yeah, they aren’t exes. But no one needs to know that, the director suggests. They just have to fudge the truth a little (a lot—to everyone) and focus on telling a story, whether or not it’s true. Or they can lose their jobs due to cutbacks. Shay’s current show is on the chopping block, so it’s lie-way or the highway. The easier path seems to be to take a chance and snag her dream job, even if it means pretending to have fallen in and out of love with a man she doesn’t know but is quite sure she dislikes.
Of course, as they tangle in the sound booth, chemistry emerges—along with a burgeoning, unexpected friendship. There’s more to Dominic than Shay expected, and there’s a lot more to her feelings for him than disdain. She’s started to fall for the man now nationally known as her ex.
Full confession: I massively overidentified with the heroine. I don’t work in radio, but my nine NPR podcast subscriptions reveal my addiction. After a decade working in my dream industry, cutbacks sent my career trajectory, like Shay's, on an unexpected left turn. (Rachel Lynn Solomon, are you my stalker?) So I might have related more than usual as Shay worked and struggled and stumbled on her path to success, professionally and romantically. Shay’s a great heroine, witty and wry and vividly real, and Dominic is just as complex and lovingly drawn. I enjoy the escapist fun of a sexy, confident, flawless hero falling for a me-substitute as much as the next girl, but it’s so much easier to believe in love that feels earned and grows between characters who aren’t props or fantasies but compellingly flawed people.
While its central romance certainly functions as the story's framework, The Ex Talk also leaves room to explore other kinds of love, including love for family (it was Shay’s late father who inspired her love of radio), love for friends, love for your work—and the kind of love for yourself that means you know when it’s time to leave a toxic, misogynistic work situation. (Thought this story was all sweetness and fluff? Think again.) So I don’t believe it was overidentification that made me fall for Shay, Dominic and the idea of the two of them together. I believe they and their creator did that by being funny, sharp, charming and insightful. This wonderful romance speaks volumes about chasing your dreams, finding your courage and putting everything on the line (or on the air) for love.