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Review: IT HAPPENED ONE FIGHT by Maureen Lee Lenker

Updated: Jan 17


Joan Davis is a movie star, and a damned good actor, too. Unfortunately, Hollywood only seems to care when she stars alongside Dash Howard, Tinseltown’s favorite leading man and a perpetual thorn in Joan’s side. She’s sick of his hotshot attitude, his never-ending attempts to get a rise out of her—especially after the night he sold her out to the press on a studio-arranged date. She’ll turn her career around without him. She’s engaged to Hollywood’s next rising star, after all, and preparing to make the film that could finally get her taken seriously. Then, a bombshell drops: thanks to one of his on-set pranks gone wrong, Dash and Joan are legally married.

Reputation on the line, Joan agrees to star alongside Dash one last time and move production to Reno, where divorce is legal after a six-week residency. But between on-set shenanigans, fishing competitions at Lake Tahoe, and intimate moments leaked to the press, Joan begins to see another side to the man she thought she had all figured out, and it becomes harder and harder to convince the public—and herself—that her marriage to Dash is the joke it started out as.

goldenrod book cover with illustrated white couple
It Happened One Fight by Maureen Lee Lenker published July 11, 2023

REVIEW by Christina Boyd

Given that I am a fan of author Maureen Lenker’s writing chops as an Entertainment Weekly scribe and knowing a "kernel of the idea—two costars who are accidentally married on set" came from an interview she did "with Keanu Reeves and Winona Ryder where Ryder posited the idea she thought that she and Keanu were married for real on the Dracula set," I was all anticipation for her debut novel. I’d only ever read one story set in the Silver Screen Hollywood era, Beau North’s story “Love in Limelight” in the multi-author anthology Elizabeth: Obstinate, Headstrong Girl and loved it. I didn’t know what to expect in It Happened One Fight but, knowing Lenker’s short story “The Food of Love” in another Austenesque anthology titled Then Comes Winter, I was all anticipation for her debut. Though I am not a fan of Old Hollywood films, I was confident I was in good hands with Lenker’s expertise in the Golden Age of Hollywood.

What struck me right away was how voicey Lenker’s characters were. They literally stepped off the page.

This was why she would never allow herself to fall in love. Because you ended up staring up at the night sky with your teeth kicked in like a chump. –Chapter 9

I liked the Old Hollywood vibe and the play on the fake relationship and enemies-to-lovers tropes. Lots of madcap laughs and big-hearted reactions. Lenker slowly built her characters and their complicated relationships and backstories, and about thirty-three percent in, the story took off.

“I could murder Harry. Why would he think this was okay?”
Dash chuckled and resumed his place in the easy chair. “I imagine he thinks it’s funny.”
“Well, he’s got a sick sense of humor,” Joan growled. “Why would they even let us stay here together? People are usually particular about men and women lodging together.”
He shrugged in that infuriatingly attractive devil-may-care fashion and replied from under his hat. “Well, technically, we are married. So, I guess it doesn’t bother them.”—Chapter 11

The prose felt like an old film, regarding pacing too. The melodrama between Dash and Joan harkened back to Silver Screen films that this novel emulates. Underlying tension drove the momentum, and though I expected the inevitable romance of Dash and Joan, I wasn’t quite sure if that was, in fact, Lenker’s plan. [read: bites nails to the quick]

He turned her around on the dance floor, so no one could see his mouth and muttered into her ear, “When you start taking responsibility for your actions. You’re not blameless in this. You kissed me. You provoked me at the table. Your little victim act is all wet, Joan. We both know it.”
“I am not playing victim. And I didn’t provoke you. I was merely responding to your jabs at my relationship with Monty. If I didn’t know better, I’d say you were jealous.” She expected Dash to rail against her, to become immediately defensive at their suggestion. But he didn’t. Instead, he went quiet, the grip of his hand on her back loosening and his fingers intertwined with hers going limp. It was as if the fight went out of him. –Chapter 13.

As a fan of Jane Austen fan fiction, I can easily liken this to Old Hollywood film “fan fiction,” if there is such a thing, as even the author lists films that may have inspired her at the back of the book. It Happened One Fight is a charming debut novel, and I look forward to Maureen Lenker’s next effort. Maybe there is a sequel in the making?

Smiling white woman with dirty blonde hair wearing a plunging red top, hand resting on her face, book shelves as backdrop
Maureen Lee Lenker, author


Maureen Lee Lenker is an award-winning journalist who has written for Turner Classic Movies, The Hollywood Reporter, Ms. Magazine, and more. She is a Senior Writer for Entertainment Weekly, where she maintains a quarterly romance review column, Hot Stuff, in addition to covering film, TV, and theater. She is a proud graduate of both the University of Southern California and the University of Oxford. Maureen calls Los Angeles home, where you’ll either find her at the beach or in a repertory movie-house, if she’s not writing. You can connect with Maureen via her website and social media.

1 Comment

Nov 01, 2023

Sounds like a great read. I will check it out.

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