This book was trying to take The Soulmate Equation and The Kiss Quotient and change them from fun, upbeat romances to "real literary fiction" (gag) by throwing a preachy, feminist take on it. In trying to add a serious, satirical edge, Henwood Hoen sucked all the charisma and edge-of-your-seat tension from the pages.
The ARC has basically the same premise as the others (but with a different purpose). They use a series of tests to pair two people, claiming they'll match with their soulmates. I think (and this is a big maybe) that Henwood Hoen was trying to turn The ARC into a social commentary on capitalism and the commercialization of romance and self-care.
Ursula Byrne is thirty-five and has burned out when it comes to love. But when she's approached by a "super secretive" tech company that specializes in pairing people for outrageous prices (40K), she goes along with it. In fact, she's rarely skeptical about any of the weird, almost-creepy things that happen. She seems to be floating through her life, which I think really obscures whether Ursula is meant to be a feminist or not.
She mainly hangs out at a women's empowerment center called The Stake. The Stake provides all of the new-age self-care therapies (a room to break things, a room where someone whispers and brushes her hair, and a womb-like chamber). The fact that this takes every example of this type of self-care and amplifies to bizarre levels (someone whispers while they brush your hair??) almost feeds into my theory about how wealthy people create classist barriers to self-care, which is becoming influenced more and more by capitalism. (Think: country clubs, golf courses, wellness centers, hundred-dollar facials, private gyms, etc.)
Where this falls flat, however, is that the main characters are so two-dimensional and don't really take a stance on or do anything. For example, yes, Ursula is part of a feminist-branded woman's health club, but she never really uses any of the services at The Stake... she's just there talking about other things like she's enough of a feminist for just being present.
There's no action, no movement. If Henwood Hoen uses them as an example of consumerism, there needs to be some sort of tension that makes that clear.
I flounder on this, wondering if it's supposed to point out how so many services are privatized then squandered when poor people don't even have access?
Or if it's supposed to show how feminism has become trendy without any action?
The farther I dive into this, the more I feel like I'm just making shit up to make this make sense.
NONE of these ideas are clear in the writing, which is huge critique of the story, whether she meant these things or not. I've spent a lot of time and worked my way through a lot ideas to land on this general theme, which only kinda-sorta fits when I think really hard about it.
At its basest form, we get two upper-class characters who just meander through their lives without real consideration (AKA spending 40K for a elitism match-making experience without question), but they also lament poor restaurant service and critic rich people (which is obviously hypocritical).
The romance aspect of this book is what confuses me the most. I don't know where it actually fits with my commercialism-satire theory (beyond needing a romance if she's going to use the whole match-making service idea).
I'm all for romance. 100%. But these characters were not compelling. They were dour, even at the "height" of their romance. It felt like the author meant for them to connect and believe that the service worked (until they had an awakening), but from the beginning I was never really that convinced that they loved each other or even thought they did.
It was like they settled into a boring relationship because that's what they thought they were supposed to do. (But... I'm not sure if that's what the author wanted the reader to think.)
Obviously there are multiple aspects I didn't like about The Arc, but what irritates me the most is that this took a fun, quirky trope and tried to give it an elitist spin. The book in itself comments on the intersection of romance books and feminism. It's trying so hard to be "high brow" without actually being clear about what it's trying and failing to do.
I don't understand the need to take successful, fun tropes and spin them into something that's supposedly more worthy of time and attention. I don't believe some genres are better than others. I don't like the idea that "women's fiction" isn't just "fiction". I think the negative connotations surrounding romance novels are just a way to invalidate something that gives women autonomy and a way to interact with a patriarchal society, and I think this reinforces all of that.
But as I've said over and over again, I don't know if that's what the author set out to do or if her subconscious tossed a bunch of that in there when she was trying to discuss the pit-falls of fourth-wave feminism.
I'd like this book more if my theory about commercialization is correct. At least then I could see some sort of point.
But I'm mostly convinced that I talked myself into all this.
If you want to try really hard to make sense of this "high concept love story" (insert Justin Timberlake unimpressed gif here) go ahead, but personally I think it's an absurd mess of a book that tries to tackle topics that author has a very narrow view of. With a sprinkle of unintentional misogyny for kicks.