Expanded review at http://coffeeandink.dreamwidth.org/1162037.html
I seem to be at odds with the general internet take on Milan's recent work, because I was disappointed by this romance between a doctor and an allegedly cheerful woman whom the doctor knows to have had a teen pregnancy years before. Lydia Charingford distrusts all of Jonas Grantham's declarations of affection because he's brusque and sarcastic and she believes he's just trying to get into her pants. There are some genuinely moving bits, particularly in Lydia's realization that she has not recovered from her traumatic history, only repressed it, and in Jonas' relationship with his aging and increasingly senile father. These are, however, outweighed for me by the dissonance between what we are told by the characters and what we are actually shown. Yes, the characters may be unreliable -- but both Jonas and Lydia agree that he is blunt to the point of rudeness, and everyone Lydia knows seems to agree that she is cheerful and optimistic.
Jonas is direct and straightforward (frequently to the point of rudeness) in everything except telling Lydia that he didn't initially recognize her as the pregnant teen, and that he would like to court her -- or even simply increase his acquaintance with her -- without having any nefarious intent. Yes, he's defensive and it's difficult to admit an attraction to someone who seems to despise you, but he doesn't have to admit to love at first sight, he just has to respond to her understandable concerns. The entire plot depends on this contrivance and all of Jonas and Lydia's interactions are shaped by it, and it jars me with every single reference.
We are told that Lydia generally presents a cheerful and optimistic face to the world, but we do not actually see any evidence of this before page 40 of a 120-page novella. For the first third of the story, we see her distressed, frustrated, angry, and often openly antagonistic -- and yes, this is because we see her interacting with Jonas, who is marked out as an exception to her usual attitude, but there is no evidence it is an exception because we don't actually see her usual behavior in action.
What I find most frustrating about this story, though, is the way it fits into a larger pattern in Milan's work, which is the way it addresses sexism. She frequently depicts men who have a feminist agenda, by which I mean not just that they object to individual cases of sexism but that they do in some way recognize that there is a systemic social disadvantage to women which must be addressed. In this case, Jonas advocates birth control for women and is particularly concerned with the way medical "science" has actually endangered women; in [b:Unclaimed|12844176|Unclaimed (Turner, #2)|Courtney Milan|http://d.gr-assets.com/books/1318272239s/12844176.jpg|15203064], Mark Turner promotes male chastity as a way to prevent abuse of women. Notably, these "feminists" are always men. In neither of these stories do we hear of or see the women who actually founded and dominated the social movements of the time which were in fact concerned with women's health, including sexual and reproductive issues. In both of these stories, women are able to recognize the injuries done to them -- and to conceptualize them as unjust injuries, rather than random events -- only because of the intervention of men.
Additionally, "A Kiss in Midwinter" depends on Jonas perpetually ignoring and disregarding Lydia's repeated indications that she doesn't wish to associate with him -- that is, it depends on his harassment of her. Because he is the hero and because we know that Lydia misinterprets his intentions, the narrative pushes us to favor his desires and to ignore that he is consistently disregarding her expressed desires in favor of satisfying his own. He knows better
. He obeys her command not to speak to her only when she satisfies his
requirements for base knowledge, and even that he undercuts by physically approaching her -- just without verbal communication. And of course he is right. Of course he wins over Lydia. Of course she recognizes that he knows her history, her psychology, and her desires better than she does herself, and his harassment is justified by her unacknowledged attraction; his behavior is excused by the narrative to the point that Lydia ultimately regrets telling him not to speak to her as much because it hurts his feelings
as because it does not reflect her final desires.
The surface narrative endorses a woman's right to express her own desires and control her own fate, but the subtext consistently subordinates Lydia's desires (both sexual and otherwise) to Jonas's.