The Decent Proposal by Kemper Donovan (2016)
Two strangers are approached and told that a mysterious benefactor will give them each five hundred thousand dollars at the end of the year. All they have to do is talk to each other weekly for a minimum of two hours one-on-one.
Although Elizabeth is suspicious of the offer and has little need for the money as an eight year associate at her law firm, she agrees with Richard that they have nothing to lose. Richard, for his part, certainly has everything to gain with his career floundering and his savings depleted.
What starts as an agreement to get easy money quickly becomes something more as Richard and Elizabeth get to know each other. Richard and Elizabeth had different reasons for agreeing to meet but can friendship (and maybe even something more) really be forced with the promise of a monetary incentive?
Donovan’s debut novel starts with a unique premise sure to draw readers in. The title and plot are immediately intriguing. Unfortunately, the novel’s execution is underwhelming by comparison.
The Decent Proposal is set in Los Angeles–the novel works especially hard to stress the latter with copious asides and details about life in LA and its neighborhoods that add little to the plot. The characters, though diverse, are often one-dimensional with good looks that alternate between effortless and understated depending on the character.
The choice to frame Elizabeth as an uptight and somewhat repressed woman who needs a man as an impetus to show her how to loosen up and embrace spontaneity was also deeply frustrating. There is a bit of mystery surrounding how and why Elizabeth and Richard are chosen for the proposal but that isn’t enough to make up for the slight characterization throughout.
The Decent Proposal is a self-aware story with a diverse cast of characters and a fun premise. A fun story about connection ideal for readers who are more concerned with a good plot than with fully developed characters.