Book Review

What Lies Beneath by Andrea Laurence

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Title: What Lies Beneath
Author: Andrea Laurence
Publication Info: Harlequin 2012
ISBN: 978-0373731657
Genre: Contemporary Romance

What Lies Beneath by Andrea Lawrence

I admit, I have a low tolerance for amnesia stories. I don't often enjoy them, I can't suspend my disbelief when the person with amnesia conveniently remembers some things, like the names of her household servants, but doesn't remember other things, like who she is. And I always wonder where the other physical symptoms are, like questionable bladder control or possible drooling.

So when this book was recommended to me, I read it with some trepidation. Ultimately, I finished it because I wanted to know what happened, not because I cared about the characters or their plight. It fed my love of mistaken-identity stories like damn howdy, but the character actions and reactions became so ridiculous I just wanted to see how far it would go before the end.

In the beginning of the story, Adrienne meets Cynthia. Cynthia is spoiled, very wealthy, frighteningly skinny, and not happy to be in coach class. Adrienne is leaving New York, lucky to afford the airline seat, humiliated after her boutique failed to catch on and she had to close her store.

When their plane crashes, Adrienne is one of very few survivors, and doesn't remember who she is. After surgery performed while she was unconscious, she now looks like Cynthia Dempsey, and everyone is calling her Cynthia, so she must be Cynthia, except that Cynthia turns out to have been a really crapful person, and has hurt her fiancee, Will, deeply. Will, conveniently, is smoking hot and smoldering and quiet and mistrustful of Cynthia who isn't really Cynthia.

When she's released from the hospital, Cynthiadrienne goes back to the flat she and Will shared, because despite knowing that she was cheating on him, the amnesia makes Will wonder if they have another chance, and he can't just ditch her when she's unaware of who she is. He likes this Cynthia – and has no idea it's not really Cynthia at all.

Here, in convenient list form, are the things I didn't like about this book, starting with one thing I did like:

1. At one point, Cynthiadrienne gives back her engagement ring to Will, saying that she doesn't like hearing who she was, or how she treated him, and she wants a chance to earn it back. I liked the twist on giving the ring back as a symbol of her desire to be worthy of his affection.

And the things I didn't like (be ye warned: somewhat spoilery):

1. Cynthiadrienne figures out very quickly she was an asshole before the accident, but too easily assumes that it was all her fault. It never occurs to Cynthadrienne that Will might also have contributed to the bad relationship that she can't remember. So Cynthadrienne is eager to change and do better, and Will doesn't need to change much at all.

2. S O M U C H T E L L I N G O M G. Will has feelings! New and different feelings have been roused! And all the telling has cliches in it. Feh.

3. Cynthiadrienne discovers that she's a WHIZ at sewing clothing. She's the best sewing amnesiac ever, and so Will, being a bazillionaire newspaper mogul (?!) buys her all the sewing-y things so she can sew and make amazing clothing for herself. And this doesn't trip any alarm bells for Will or anyone else, that Cynthia, who probably asked for a new car when the old one was out of gas, suddenly wants to sew. I mean, it's one thing for a New York socialite to have her name on a fashion line. It's another thing entirely, a thing located in WTFLand, for said socialite to start cranking out the sportswear herself.

4. At no time does Cynthiadrienne show any curiosity about the plane crash, the other survivors, if there were any (the reader learns later there were others, in a throwaway line), and what happened to bring the plane down. It seems baffling to me that Cynthiadrienne would not be interested in the least about what had happened to her, and to the other people on that plane. But no, she's very content to sew in the luxury uptown apartment she lives in.

5. A quote:

“Will had to laugh. The woman across the table from him surprised him every day. She really was an entirely different person. A sweet, caring woman with a zest for life, and the simplest pleasures, like silly tourist fare. Maybe she really had changed for good.”

First, what is a zest for life? Is it orange zest, or lime zest?

Second, if Cynthiadrienne was so entirely, radically, zestfully different from Cynthia-pre-crash, doesn't that ALARM HIM at ALL? They'll go to Times Square for dinner and he'll go along because it's fun and zesty?

It was getting harder and harder to suspend my disbelief here, but when upper east side New Yorkers start dining on tourist fare, I draw the line.

6. Cynthiadrienne makes several references that make no sense, from saying Will is acting like Rhett Butler, to making references to property on Martha's Vineyard, a place that Adrienne, very poor fashion designer from the midwest, would not likely know that much about. Cynthadrienne has a fluency in the language of the wealthy that makes no sense given who she really is, or was, or used to be.

7. When The Great Discovery Is Made, that Cynthia Is Really Adrienne, the reactions of the other characters are ludicrous. Will throws her out, which makes a bit of sense, but Cynthia's mother, (highlight to read) who paid a crapping ton of money to have Adrienne's face reconstructed to look as much like Cynthia as possible because they thought she WAS Cynthia, is all benevolent and forgiving and not at all suspicious that Adrienne was taking advantage of them. Their reaction to Adrienne once she remembers her identity is absolutely barmy to me.

8. How is it that no one thought to take a dental impression or something to absolutely verify that the unconscious person was Cynthia? Because no one ever switches seats on airplanes or anything like that, right?

9. Before you worry about Adrienne's parents or family, who thought she was dead except, whoops, never mind all that mourning, do not worry like I did. Adrienne has one relative who appears later in the book. She is as stock-character cold, awful, and heartless as you could hope for. Adrienne is totally alone and on her own in the world, though she's now conveniently wearing the face of a dead heiress.

9.5 And yet, at no time do any reality television producers come a-calling. This seems tailor-made for Lifetime or Discovery, right? “The Face of a Dead Woman.” “My Life, Her Face.” “Back from the Dead, Sponsored by Singer.” “Some Alterations Made.” The possibilities are endless, here.

10. That whole dead-woman's-face thing is no big deal either. It's actually helpful. Based on a connection she made as Cynthadrienne when she sews her own ballgown for a gala (like you do), Adrienne is invited to a fashion show competition for up and coming designers, and she enters the competition with her hastily-made collection, sewn in a frantic hurry in a span of days between the phone call and the show itself. Will shows up at the fashion show with flowers and asks for forgiveness, and of course she forgives him for throwing her out on the streets with no identity or anything.

I don't know that I could be so forgiving. Will finally had stumbled over a clue after all those huge departures from Normal Awful Cynthia, and began to suspect Adrienne never had amnesia. So when he figures out with Cold Hard Proof he's angry about it, but he tosses Adrienne out the door, with no ID, no ability to access her money (because she's been “dead” for weeks), no one who can help her because she knows few people in New York as Adrienne (plus she's been dead), and no one who knew her as Cynthia would help her now.

So she moves in with the intensive care nurse who was her noble friend while she was in the hospital all those weeks ago. Imagine that phone call: “I know you thought I was this other lady but I'm not, and now I'm on the street wearing that other lady's face, so can I crash on your couch?”

I didn't think much of Will, nor of his minuscule development as a character, and I didn't think much of Cynthadrienne, because once she remembers who she is, her character is defined and interesting – but for too short a time. Until she gets her memory back, she's way too amnesiac-perky-girl with a few brief stops at self-abusing self-pity. No realistic curiosity about her crash, no curiosity about the other survivors, and no culture shock at being totally unfamiliar with The Ways and Habits of the Very Very Wealthy. Once she remembers who she is, her character is much more interesting, but then her determination and strength are much more impressive when compared to Will's mediocre appearance to ask for forgiveness right before the book ends. I would have wanted Will to earn her back – and not have Adrienne forgive him just because he showed up. He should have had to do more than that, because in the end, she was more awesome than he was by far.

But then, this is a guy who slept with Cynthia, and slept with Adrienne, and didn't notice the difference, so perhaps my expectations of him are too high.


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  1. 1
    Jennifer says:

    There was a Harlequin Intrigue that had a similar premise to this and it was pretty good.  At one point the heroine confronts the hero and basically says “Of course I seemed confused and out of it.  EVERYONE was telling me my memories were wrong but my memories were right for ME not for who you all said I was”.

    Didn’t Linda Howard have a similarly themed book?  The hero was the one with amnesia and the heroine caught on right away that he wasn’t her ex

  2. 2
    Brooklyn Ann says:

    Holy hell! I admit, I have little experience with amnesia stories. Melrose Place had a few craptastic ones and Judith McNaught did awesome with UNTIL YOU. But this seems ridiculous on so many levels, the “face transplant” being the first.

  3. 3
    Lily says:

    It’s funny but there’s a telenovela with a similar plot which is called “El rostro de Analia” (the face of Analia). It’s about a wife who finds out her husband is cheating on her with her cousin, runs away from home and then gets hijacked on a road by a woman named Analia. Analia was hired by the cousin to kill the wife. When the wife finds that out, she drives them over the cliff and the car explodes. A doctor passes by, finds the body of the wife and reconstructs her burned face to match Analia’s because the only remaining piece of identity is Analia’s photo which is found unharmed. Two years pass by. The wife, who’s been living with the doctor since the accident and has no memory, re-encounters the husband, who thinks the wife committed suicide because of him two years ago, and feeling guilty, stopped screwing around. Instant attraction and blooming love between, apparently, complete “strangers”.

  4. 4

    Yeah, modern conveniences get too much in the way of amnesiac switched-identity stories. When people suffer from traumatic head injuries, new personality traits or illogical behaviour ARE WARNING SIGNS THAT CAREGIVERS ARE SUPPOSED TO WATCH FOR THAT ARE INDICATIVE OF BRAIN DAMAGE. When Will discovers Synthetic-Cynthia is acting like a completely different person, his instinct should have been to drive her to the nearest MRI machine, not bask in the glow of Not Being Romantically Shat On.

    That being said, the only amnesiac switched identity story I know is UNTIL YOU by Judith McNaught, which was just as big a fail of fail-ery proportions.

  5. 5
    kkw says:

    There’s a Sandra Brown where there’s a plane crash and amnesia and reconstructive surgery that makes the heroine look like the evil bitch woman who died.  They exchanged seats because the rich woman couldn’t stand being near her daughter?  Anyway, the heroine saves the little girl, which is the first of a long line of out of character things, and yet seemingly the sort of thing a mom would do so she must be the mom.  I think her jaw was fragmented and that’s why there were no dental records?  And I think maybe the heroine knows she’s not this other woman but can’t talk until it’s too late, so goes along with the imposture?  Surely not just because her new husband is hot?  Most of these details are fuzzy.

  6. 6
    Patricia Eimer says:

    Wow should we call Will clueless? He can’t even tell them apart in the bedroom. Some fiancee she’s got there.

  7. 7
    CarrieS says:

    I’m confused.  Did she have a face transplant?  ‘Cause I’m in the middle of an incredibly gross New Yorker article about face transplants, and that’s not how they work.  Remotely.

  8. 8
    Lindleepw says:

    I read this. While she was still in the hospital some shadowy figure comes in her room and makes threats against her and others. so being a reporter (of course) she decides to go along and solve the mystery. But yeah they change her face before she’s able to communicate. That was super scary.

  9. 9
    Kate Sheeran says:

    “when upper east side New Yorkers start dining on tourist fare, I draw the line.”

    *snort* So true!

  10. 10
    Rebecca says:

    When *any* New Yorkers start dining on “tourist fare” I draw the line.  Those of us who aren’t enjoying the lifestyles of the Very Wealthy (TM) don’t really want to spend twice as much money for something that tastes half as good.  (For those out of towners who may be seduced into the Sbarro’s in Times Square: run away.  Run far far away.  To say, 8th or 9th Avenue, where there are real restaurants.)

  11. 11
    HK says:

    I don’t know the brain is a funny thing. My husband tutored his friend all through high school after a car accident messed with his short term memory. He could remember things that had happened a year ago, but nothing that had happened 10 minutes ago. They would go over the same information again and again and again until it ‘stuck’ and became long term memory.

    And last year I had a bad reaction to an antibiotic and it was/is freaky the things I still remember and the things that are just a blank spot in my head. It’s frustrating.

    So I figure the brain is capable of just about any weird thing. But this book sounds like a mess without the amnesia.

  12. 12
    Kelriiafrettlar says:

    That’s because the amnesia Hollywood likes to portray is very different from real amnesia. Most amnesia cases are closer to the one you describe and don’t miraculously get better. A tiny, tiny portion of them work like they do in Holywood. Only a handful of movies have ever portrayed it correctly (Ellen Degeneres’ character from Finding Nemo is a good example, and 50 First Dates actually does too), but it’s not as ‘interesting’ or ‘dramatic’. Reading about amnesia is actually pretty interesting, if you ever get the chance.

  13. 13
    TheDuchess says:

    I remember the Sandra Brown book—“Mirror Image”. The heroine was a reporter, who switched seats with this woman in the plane, but for some reason some of the woman’s stuff was found with her, maybe? She wasn’t able to tell anyone who she was cause at the beginning her jaw was wired shut and next in a drug induced haze after the reconstructive surgery she overhears a plot to kill the woman’s politician husband. So she pretends to be the wife to unravel the plot and try to save him. Or something. Also doesn’t hurt that he’s hot.

  14. 14
    Melle says:

    Is it just me, or is the idea of walking around with a dead woman’s face for the rest of one’s life because someone assumed you were her and couldn’t be bothered to confirm the identification something more likely to be found in a horror novel or thriller than a romance novel?

  15. 15
    sweeks1980 says:

    The Sandra Brown book is “Mirror Image,” and it has one of those “everything plus the kitchen sink” sort of plots. The heroine, Avery (sp?), is mistaken for evil bitch Carole, wife of an aspiring senator. While Avery is in intensive care after her accident, someone comes in and tells her not to make any deathbed confessions about trying to the husband. Consequently, she assumes Carole’s identity because she wants to save the husband’s life (it doesn’t hurt that he is hot) and boost her career (she is an aspiring/failed tv news reporter). She doesn’t have amnesia or the wherewithal to fake having amnesia, so she has to intuit Carole’s life, and as she interacts with the family, she realizes that Carole sucked. So now, in addition to saving the husband’s life and reviving her career, she feels the need to right the wrongs that Carole did (and there were a lot).

    Along the way, there’s lots of sex (including angry!sex and car!sex) and Texas politics/political intrigue with a dash of child psychology thrown in for good measure.

    This book is essentially: (Quantum Leap – Al) + Dallas/Days of Our Lives

  16. 16
    Vicki says:

    Actually, amnesia can be very tricky. My daughter lost a whole year of her life 2 decades ago – initially, she knew us but not herself or where she was, there were no other symptoms except headache. I do see patients who have other symptoms but they have greater damage. Typically, the more peripheral the information, the more likely you are to retain it. Personality changes are also very common with post-concussive syndrome. I have to say the book sounds kind of stupid on other levels but post-concussive could look like that.

  17. 17
  18. 18
    Kadiya says:

    Yes, amnesia can have more than one cause.  A hit on the head can cause it, but the damage is physical only.  If there are severe emotional issues at play, one can also “block out” memories.  Most “amnesia romance stories” involve both.  So, the combination of the hit on the head and the emotional trauma cause an odd combination of “selective amnesia”.  Additionally, personality changes after a hit on the head or other type of brain injury is quite plausible.  And that doesn’t even begin to cover fugue states or the lack of memory for people with multiple personality disorder. 

    Some people will get memories back, especially if the physical damage was less and it was mostly emotional trauma.  When significant physical damage is done though, don’t count on the memories returning.

    In short, we don’t yet know anywhere near enough about the brain to understand amnesia and all the hows and whys. 

    I did read Mirror Image way back when I was glomming all things Sandra Brown.  Been wondering what the name of that book was since I could remember the plot but not the title or author.

    @CarrieS:  No, these are not face transplants in that sense at all.  This is plastic surgery to reconstruct a face into the image shown in a photograph.  The idea is that the bones are broken but the underlying tissue is still there and mostly intact.  In the new face transplants, the underlying tissue is pretty messed up and some of the bone as well.  At least, that is the way I understand it.

  19. 19
    Dayle says:

    Half it of sounds like the plot of the current TV show Ringer (see, e.g., clueless husband who can’t tell his bitchy wife from her sweet twin).

  20. 20
    Bnbsrose says:

    “First, what is a zest for life? Is it orange zest, or lime zest?”
    I’d say real Cynthia would’ve been lemon and new improved Cynthiaadrienne would be Whitewater Fresh Zest, cause you new personality’s not really clean until it’s Zestfully clean.

  21. 21
    Beggar1015 says:

    I’m gonna have to watch this crazysauce. Is it on Hulu?

  22. 22
    cbackson says:

    I have actually had amnesia.  Short-term (thank God), but I’ve had it.  I have to admit that romance was the last thing on my mind, because the experience of waking up and not remembering is in of itself a trauma, aside from the experience that caused it.  I didn’t even know my parents’ last names when I woke up.  All I remember – literally, ALL that I remembered – was my first and last name (not my middle name), my occupation (but not where I worked), and my parents’ first names.  And my religion (because I asked them to call a priest for me). 

    I know that the experience varies widely from patient to patient, but the thing that sounds the weirdest to me is the lack of curiosity about the crash – I was obsessively curious about specifically what happened to me, because I felt like if I could just remember that, everything else would come back.

    (it did, by the way)

  23. 23
    Susan says:

    I have a sickness—no, not amnesia.  My sickness is that I have this overwhelming desire to read every terrible book reviewed/discussed here.  The crazier the better.  So many good books—why do I yearn to read a bad one?

    I remember an old Harlequin where 2 women were next to each other on a train.  The poor waif tried on the ginormous engagement ring of the rich woman sitting next to her, and then BAM! the train crashed. Rich woman killed.  Poor woman, with convenient facial injuries, is identified as the rich woman due to the ring.  You can figure out the rest from there.  Sounds similar to the Sandra Brown book in some ways, but it wasn’t the same one.  I don’t remember the name—it could be a HABO.

    Most of the other mistaken identity/switcheroo stories I remember don’t include amnesia.  Often a twin or other lookalike masquerading as the other person for some reason.

    When I regained consciousness after a being t-boned by another car, for a brief time the one thing I could remember was my mother’s (not mine) phone number.  Good thing.

  24. 24
    Susan says:

    Oh, I wanted to add that the worst thing to me would be Will’s behavior.  I don’t have a forgiving nature either in real life or in my reading life.  Will would need to do some serious groveling to earn a second chance.  Flowers and a “sorry” wouldn’t cut it.

  25. 25
    Copa says:

    If you have a crash so traumatic they rearrange your face, then start acting like an entirely different person I’m driving your ass to the hospital to check for brain damage, not hoping you sew some lingerie so we can have sexy times.

  26. 26
    sweeks1980 says:

    @Jennifer – Linda Howard’s book was “White Lies,” and it is delightfully old-school. I believe that it was one of three books that had overlapping characters.

    The hero did have amnesia. He was a secret agent (I think) and his cover had been leaked. I think he was involved in some sort of explosion and had to get facial reconstruction. To keep him safe, the agency he worked for said that he was Steve, the ex-husband of the heroine, and that the agent had been killed in the explosion (the actual ex-husband was in the area too for some reason not fully explained). They brought the heroine in to identify her ex, and they had her stay to make the story credible but they didn’t tell her that the man in question wasn’t her ex. She believed that he was Steve until they took the bandages off of his face and she saw his eyes (he and the ex-husband both had brown eyes, but they were different shades of brown). She keeps up the charade to protect him. He falls in love with her and mentally beats himself up for letting her get away the first time.

    He eventually gets his memory back but doesn’t tell the heroine because he doesn’t want to lose her. The truth comes out, and he gets all angry and alph-holey because the heroine didn’t tell him the truth (like the above plot, he thinks she did it so that someone would take care of her). Of course, everything works out in the end.

  27. 27
    The Other Susan says:

    Wow.  Sounds like there’s a whole romance subgenre of amnesia stories.

    I wonder how far back in history this trope goes?  I may have to look it up.

    And to those who posted about having amnesia & recovering – I’m glad you did.

  28. 28
    Maria510maria says:

    @Susan, Your book description sounds like a movie I watched with Ricki Lake and Brendan Frasier. The name escapes me, but the train, engagement ring plot sounds similar. The only thing missing was that Ricki Lake’s character was pregnant and didn’t get amnesia, just everyone thought she was the fiance of Brendan Frasier’s character’s twin brother. Nobody had met said fiance yet, so priceless family heirloom plus preggers plus train crash = missing fiance.

  29. 29
    Alisonfgolding says:

    The Other Susan: the first amnesia romance I know of is Random Harvest by James Hilton, in 1941.  It became a film with a rather altered plot. 

    There’s a thriller by Desmond Bagley, Landslide, written in 1967, which has an amnesiac hero with a reconstructed face.  Linda Howard’s White Lies I remember enjoying a lot, and should still have in a box somewhere.

    They aren’t amnesia stories, but for freaky stories about female identity and appearance, Fay Weldon is worth trying, as in The Life and Loves of a She-Devil and The Cloning of Joanna May.

  30. 30
    HK says:

    This isn’t that book, but it reminded me of a Christina Dodd book. It was part of a series that I read eons ago.
    LOST IN YOUR ARMS

    A Groom Who Can’t Remember.
    A Bride Who Wants Desperately To Forget.

    Enid MacLean is finally living a peaceful life when she receives word that an explosion has injured the husband she hoped she’d never have to see again. Reluctantly, she agrees to do her duty but, except for his distinctive green eyes, the man she nurses back to health is not the man she recalls.

    And he remembers nothing. From the depths of his amnesia, he reaches out for the woman he believes is his wife, tempting her with ardent words and a reckless passion she finds herself unable to resist. And while Enid finds herself losing her heart to this achingly familiar stranger, she cannot help but wonder how her husband has become such a dangerous, seductive man…and what secrets he carries locked away in his lost memories.

    Last time marriage cost her her happiness. This time love could cost her more.

    Amnesia is popular! But this time it’s the man. I recall she figured it out pretty quickly.

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