‘Something to Talk About’
By Meryl Wilsner
You never know about love stories. When they’re good, you ravenously, even rapturously, turn the page. When they’re bad, you’re a kid on a car trip with your parents, whining, “Are we there yet?”
Thankfully, “Something to Talk About,” the debut novel by queer author Meryl Wilsner, takes you on an enthralling road trip. Wilsner’s tale of romance, featuring Hollywood, award shows, fashion and gossip, is an exhilarating ride.
“Something to Talk About” is the story of Jo Jones, a 42-year-old showrunner, and her 27-year-old assistant Emma Kaplan. Though, the novel is an entertaining rom-com, it deals with issues of our time — from racism to workplace sexual harassment.
Jo, who is Chinese-American and a (mostly) closeted lesbian, has been in show business since she was a teen. For seven seasons, beginning at age 13, she played Amanda, the adopted daughter of a white family on the TV show “The Johnson Dynasty.”
“Every other series regular was white. Jo never mentioned it. No one ever mentioned it,” Wilsner writes. “Jo had never known if people were ignoring it or simply didn’t notice.”
After the show ended, Jo stars in four blockbuster movies. Then she wrote about being Chinese-American in Hollywood.
“What it was like to be the butt or racist jokes on her own televison show. About casting notices for white actresses only,” Wilsner writes.
Work dries up for Jo for five years until she writes a script for a TV show. The network pats itself on the back for giving a second chance to a “disgraced actress” and Jo wins Emmys for the show.
Now Jo’s getting ready to be the executive producer of “Agent Silver,” an action movie franchise. But skeptics wonder: how could she, a Chinese-American woman, succeed at a genre traditionally helmed by white men?
Emma, who’s openly bisexual and Jewish, dropped out of film school because she lacked confidence. But she loves being Jo’s assistant. She’s got Jo’s back, from bringing her coffee with a smile to keeping her organized. Nothing about Jo’s mood or needs escapes Emma’s notice. She knows when to get Jo another latte and when it’s going to be a bad day because Jo’s ponytail is, as Wilsner writes, “high and tight enough to look severe.”
From her vantage point as Jo’s right-hand-woman, Emma learns about making movies. Jo mentors Emma and encourages her to go for it when she says she wants one day to direct.
It’s no spoiler to say that “Something to Talk About” is the story of a romance between Jo and Emma. Early on, you sense that they have feelings for each other. Emma goes with Jo to the SAG Awards. She isn’t Jo’s date. She’s there to help Jo handle the paparazzi on the red carpet. But, after they smile at each other, rumors that they’re an item flood social media.
Emma and Jo are freaked out about the gossip. At this point, they aren’t aware (or wouldn’t admit to themselves) of their attraction to each other. But they don’t want their careers to be tainted by rumors. Emma dreads having people erroneously think that she got her job by sleeping with her boss. Jo, who’s never discussed her love life with the press, doesn’t wish to be falsely accused of sexually harassing an employee.
“You think people don’t look at pictures of us and think I’m corrupting this lovely young lady? I’m a predatory lesbian in the middle of a midlife crisis,” Jo says.
The passion between Jo and Emma is so slow-burning that, at times, you want to stoke the flames. How many smiles, accidental kisses and iced chai lattes will it take before they get that they’re in love? When will Jo be fully out? But the romantic pay-off, though it seems to take forever to arrive, is worth the wait.
This romance will make you hungry, not only for love, but for food. Jo and Emma like to eat — everything from salmon with lemon butter sauce to pizza to latkes.
If you’re seeking romance that’s a perfect fit for these times, “Something to Talk About” is for you.