“Police academy cadet Charlie Burns can’t believe his luck when the gorgeous blonde he meets in a bar murmurs those magic words: 'Nothing serious, ’kay?' Mind-blowing, no-strings sex with Ever Carmichael — it’s the holy grail of hookups for a guy who’s too busy following in his law enforcement family’s footsteps to think about getting serious. Charlie’s all about casual… that is, until Ever calls it quits and his world tilts on its axis.”
Escapism in literature is meant to take us away from reality and immerse us in another world. Its goal is to entertain, not interpret the real world in a meaningful way. Readers should be able to totally immerse themselves in the world the author creates.
One of the appeals of escapism is its predictability; it creates its own order and rationality, where things work out the way ‘they’re supposed to’, unlike the chaos of real life. A paramount feature of escapism is logical consistency, particularly when it is meant to take place in a world similar to our own. The best escapist fiction resolves all the conflicts it creates.
This becomes difficult in romantic novels set in contemporary times. Romantic tropes don’t naturally lend themselves to a modern setting. Independent personhood, vocal consent, and humanising women characters - as opposed to objectifying them - don't make for the stereotypical ‘romantic’ story. In the traditional romance, women characters might initially be independent and ‘feisty’, but inevitably eventually submit to aggressively 'laddish' alpha males. These women somehow fulfil all the logic-defying rules of both sexual expertise and chastity. They are beautiful without make-up and have perfect bodies without subjecting themselves to calorie-controlled dieting. Modern romances often feature the “Cool Girl” - described eloquently by Gillian Flynn - and Disorderly Conduct is no different.
However, the difference between Flynn’s "Cool Girl" and Tessa Bailey’s Ever Carmichael is that Ever does not pretend to be the ‘perfect’ blend of hyper-femininity and casual sex. Ever is supposed to somehow be genuine. She’s non-committal but still monogamous to her short-term, carefully selected boyfriends. She is a "unicorn" in the words of the male protagonist, Charlie Burns. The conflict arises when the "Cool Girl" wants more out of her relationships than strings-free sex. She is now supposed to be relatable to the reader because she wants what women are supposed to want: commitment.
The sexually-permissive female protagonist initially fulfils the fantasy of the male and yet has to navigate the purity politics of a “fairytale romance” to end up with the hero. It’s a tough sell to create a woman who can wear all those hats. Tessa Bailey makes a valiant effort to do that but frequently, unfortunately, falls short.
The character set-ups in Disorderly Conduct are unreasonable. The characters don’t have just minor flaws, something that would allow readers to suspend their sense of disbelief, but rather they often have negative qualities like possessiveness and dishonesty, which are presented as momentary issues that can be overcome by love. Realistically, of course, these traits are not indicators that someone loves you but the foreshadowing of dangerous behaviour.
The story examines red flags through rose-coloured glasses and forces readers to actively ignore terrible decision-making to get to the last page. The resolution to the conflicts seems superficial and unearned. Instead of experiencing the gradual intensity of feelings built through expertly-paced twists and turns, the reader is jolted from plot point to plot point.
It’s not all bad if you are able to force yourself to ignore the logical inconsistencies and borderline frightening choices being made. The sex scenes are frequent and described in toe-curling detail. Charlie Burns is written with a notable preference for cunnilingus (which is always refreshing). The book is easily digestible and shouldn’t take more than an afternoon to finish.
Overall, Disorderly Conduct isn’t the flight of fancy it could be because it tries to be too many things and so, ends up being ridiculous.
If you’re able to do to the work to make it fun, it will be. If you prefer to let the book lead the way, you’re better off picking up something else.