Two Across by Jeff Bartsch

Two Across by Jeff Bartsch

Quite unlike anything I’ve ever read, Jeff Bartsch brings a story of childhood flirtations span years and a marriage in his debut release.  Please read on for my review of

Two Across

Stanley and Vera are achievers, with strong-willed mothers in their back pockets, determining each move.  Meeting as co-champions at the National Spelling Bee, and the two are instantly bonded in their love of words and the frustration with their mothers’ plans for them.

See- Stanley doesn’t want to be a senator, he wants to build crossword puzzles. Vera has little interest in mathematics, and a life of academia makes her yawn.  While they both find a connection, Vera is intrigued by the person Stanley shows her, and develops more than a small crush.

The only alternative that they can see to making their own lives is to marry – entirely for show – and move on their own paths.  But, Vera truly does have feelings for Stanley – feelings that he is using in ways that show his early training in manipulating his mother are played out with Vera.

These two are intriguing: Stanley’s mother is agoraphobic and manipulative, and he’s used to functioning around and without her interference by using similar tactics. He’s driven, intelligent and rather sociopathic in his desires to achieve his own ends, others be damned.  Vera is directed and driven, but so afraid of rejection and conflict that she never actually confronts Stanley on his bad behavior, rather plays along in the on again-off again relationship, never to be truly satisfied.  Through the years covered in the story, these two arrange ‘reunions’ using crossword puzzles and clues in various newspapers.  Insanely clever in a premise, and these two are intriguing.

But Vera is far more the empathetic character, even as she isn’t able to put her foot down and stop Stanley’s manipulations earlier.  She’s a run not confront sort of person, and she’s constantly running from things, most importantly standing up to Stanley, telling him how she feels and demanding her own space and input in their very dysfunctional relationship.

There are tons of good bits here – the puzzles are clever and work into the plot in ways that are both revealing and surprising.  Those alone are sure to please fans who want something different.  The back and forth between these two tends to muddy the clear pacing and path forward as they grow and find their ways (or not) together.  While the conclusion was perfectly fitting, giving the best outcome I could expect in many ways, the bittersweet tones felt appropriate and closed their story nicely. A wonderful story for fans of literary fiction or those who enjoy a bit of a puzzle.

Two Across by Jeff Bartsch

Title: Two Across
Author: Jeff Bartsch
Genre: Literary Fiction, New Adult - Coming of Age
Published by: Grand Central Publishing
ISBN: 1455554618
Published on: 19 July, 2016
Source: Publisher
Pages: 304
Audio Length: 9 Hours
Rated: four-stars
Heat: One Flame

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Highly awkward teenager Stanley Owens meets his match in beautiful, brainy Vera Baxter when they tie for first place in the annual National Spelling Bee-and the two form a bond that will change both of their lives.

Though their mothers have big plans for them-Stanley will become a senator, Vera a mathematics professor-neither wants to follow these pre-determined paths. So Stanley hatches a scheme to marry Vera in a sham wedding for the cash gifts, hoping they will enable him to pursue his one true love: crossword puzzle construction. In enlisting Vera to marry him, though, he neglects one variable: she's secretly in love with him, which makes their counterfeit ceremony an exercise in misery for her.

Realizing the truth only after she's moved away and cut him out of her life, Stanley tries to atone for his mistakes and win her back. But he's unable to find her, until one day he comes across a puzzle whose clues make him think it could only have been created by Vera. Intrigued, he plays along, communicating back to her via his own gridded clues. But will they connect again before it's all too late?

A copy of this title was provided via Publisher for purpose of honest review. I was not compensated for this review: all conclusions are my own responsibility.

About Jeff Bartsch

Jeff Bartsch is the author of Two Across, and an award-winning copywriter who has worked on campaigns for many major brands. He studied creative writing at the University of Wisconsin, and held the Katey Lehman Fellowship in the MFA program at Penn State University. He lives in Brooklyn, with his daughter.