I originally posted this review in 2009. Last night I re-skimmed the book, and found I only had to edit the review a tiny bit.
My Take in Brief: Only recommended for anal retentive Jenny Crusie fans, and then only for the completionist satisfaction.
Heroine and Hero: Tess is a hippie do-gooder. Nick is an ambitious yuppie lawyer.
Conflict: See heroine and hero, above.
Plot: To make partner, Nick needs to appear “settled”, so he needs a date for a weekend affair at a rich conservative writer’s country home. Naturally, he chooses his outspoken, Republican-baiting, commune-bred ex-girlfriend with whom he constantly bickers to make a good impression. There’s a subplot involving plagiarism that is even more stupid, another one that makes a depressing case for Churchill’s famous claim about maturity requiring conservatism, and a secondary romance between, essentially, Richie Rich and Pinky Tuscadero* that allows the author to deploy every cliché in her terrifyingly large arsenal (*showing my age, I know. If Pinky rings no bells for you, think Marisa Tomei in My Cousin Vinny)
Word on the Web:
Mrs. Giggles, 74
AAR, Colleen M., A
Laurie Gold, C-
Bookish Reviews, B+
Trashionista, 4 out of 5
For fun: Dear Author’s “If you like” on Jennifer Crusie
SB was originally published as a Silhouette in 1994, and reissued in paper in 2003 and then again in January 2009 in library edition hardcover with a cutesy cover you could use in place of Ipecac if you had to (see below). when I bought this in 2009, my Kindle edition was 4 bucks. Today the Kindle edition is $1.61. Thanks to AQ for the original covers below!
This was the second book in a row that I began reading and felt as if I started in the middle. When we meet them, Nick and Tess have dated and split up, and he is knocking on her apartment door while she hangs with her EYE-talian friend Gina. Note the wink to romance conventions with the use of “grovel”:
Nick knocked again. “Tess? You want me to grovel? I’ll grovel. I’ve got a great grovel. You’ve never seen my grovel; you left before I could show it to you. Come on, Tess, let me in.”
Gina slumped back into the couch and jerked her head toward the door. “If you’re thinking about swapping your bod for money, go answer the door. He’s still loaded, right?”
Tess nodded. “I haven’t checked lately, but knowing Nick and his affinity for money, he’s still loaded.”
“Marry him,” Gina said.
“No,” Tess said.
“Well, to begin with, he hasn’t asked me,” Tess said. “And he’s a Republican lawyer, so my mother would disown me. And then . . . ” Tess frowned as if in serious thought. “I always thought it would be a good idea to marry somebody who wouldn’t try to pick up the maid of honor at the reception. Call me crazy but –”
“Since that would be me, you got no worries,” Gina said. “Marry him.”
“You don’t know Nick,” Tess said. “He could seduce Mother Teresa.” She cocked her head toward the door and listened for a moment. “And it doesn’t seem to be an option anymore anyway. I think he got tired and left.”
She tried hard not to be disappointed. After all, she’d had no intention of opening the door anyway.
Still, it wasn’t like Nick to give up that fast, dangerous hallway or not. He must not have missed her that much after all.
There are so many things I love about Jenny Crusie’s writing of romance. I love the humor and wit, of course, and the sexual tension, and the characterization. Politically, I love the egalitarianism, the liberalism, the positive construction of femininity and masculinity. When people ask me how I can teach and write feminist theory and still read romance, Crusie is one of the first authors who comes to mind. (Tess, rather than being a statuesque blonde, is Crusie’s trademark “warm and round”. And she has short red hair.)
But no amount of political affinity in the world will make me like a book if I cannot like the leads and cannot figure out why they do the stupid things they do. And besides that, this is the rare Crusie in which it feels like the heroine is one of those category cardboard liberals, whose “ideals” are so many strawmen, just waiting for a hero with a blowtorch.
Tess says, “Life is more than great sex and a nice car”, and when her friend Gina replies “Not much more”, you can be sure we are supposed to agree with Gina. Tess eventually does: in the end, she basically abandons her objections to Nick’s large income and larger home in return for a coat of colorful paint.
Crusie’s heroines often walk the line between being strong and being bitches, and Tess definitely goes over to the bitch side. On the reread, I noticed how often she “scowled”, “frowned”, was “indignant”, or “depressed”, expressed “disgust”, or spoke “derisively”, “skeptically”. For example, her comment in the above quotation regarding the groom seducing the bridesmaid has no basis in Nick’s character (he’s true blue). When even the hero describes her as “tactless and undignified” you know you have a piece of work on your hands. She dumps Nick because he refused to have sex with her in a public parking lot. Equally irrationally, Tess decides to try to get a job at a posh private school (which, conveniently for the author, puts her in the path of Nick’s rich clients) and has no problem using old boy nepotism — normally one of the main targets of true liberals — to do so.
Nick is underdeveloped, and, like Tess, he is a cardboard figure: he’s not ambitious for “bad” reasons: no, he’s making up for a financially precarious childhood.
There are some interesting, but unexplored, themes about the purpose of literature (the famous writer says to Tess “You’re probably one of those fools who thinks literature should be life-affirming”) and about whether it’s better to be Dr. Jeckyll or Mr. Hyde (naturally, Tess prefers Hyde because he’s “unpredictable”. I bet he would have done her in the parking lot!). But not enough to save the day from the impossibly retrograde premise (that a lawyer in 1994 must be “settled down” to make partner) or silly plagiarism subplot (Tess thinks the hippie who told her a story 30 years ago has copyright on it) with a highly improbable “twist” you can see coming a mile away.
Is this book worse than the average category? No, of course not. But I grade on a curve and the curve is not kind to authors who have written some of my favorite romances. Since this is a very early Crusie, there is some historical interest in seeing the germs for later ideas.
One thing that really interests me about Crusie is the way American wealth is characterized. In each of the categories I have read this week, there is a questioning or outright rejection of the pursuit of wealth, and not fantastic Steve Jobs wealth, but simple things like living in a new house with a three car garage or making partner. In this book, Nick thinks to himself that there is a difference between “ambition”, which is ok, and “naked ambition”, which is not, but it’s hard to tell what the difference is in any terms other than money. The theme in the 4 Crusie categories I have read seems to be that it’s bad to be ambitious about wealth and status, bit other kinds of ambition are ok. Also, in this book, the wealthy — but not the middle and working classes — are highly conscious of propriety, of manners, of protocol, of mores. And yet, you have them rudely insulting the heroine, for example, at the dinner table. In my experience, the wealthy are not more personally conservative than other classes. If anything, less so. On the other hand, direct public insults to invited guests would not occur. There’s no need.