Romantic melodrama with some some cringe-worthy, sexual harassment scenes
Reading Level: Adult Romance
Release Date: January 18, 2011
Publisher: William Morrow; Reprint edition
Pages: 402 pages
Reviewed By: Kate McMurry
Meg Koranda is the flaky, 30-year-old daughter of a famous action star and a hotshot Hollywood talent agent (their story is told in Glitter Baby, 1987). For the very first time, two months ago, her parents decided to exercise tough love by discontinuing financing Meg’s college-dropout, jobless, footloose lifestyle of the past ten years as a world traveler. The one thing Meg excels at, other than globe-trotting, is being a good friend. And her longtime, BFF, 31-year-old Lucy Jorik, needs Meg’s support desperately to avoid making the mistake of her life. Lucy, the adopted daughter of a former president of the United States and a world-famous journalist (their story is told in First Lady, 2000), is minutes away from marrying Ted Beaudine. He is the 32-year-old son of two parents who are as gorgeous, rich and famous as Meg’s and Lucy’s. Ted’s father is a golf superstar, and his mother is a famous talk show host (their story is told in Fancy Pants, 1989). Ted himself is rich in his own right as a brilliant inventor, and he is mayor of Wynette, Texas by popular demand of the citizens of his small, scenic hometown. Countless women, of all ages, would give anything to marry Ted. He is not only rich and well connected, he is as handsome and well-built as a Greek god, ultra responsible, sweet-tempered, generous, considerate and a consummate lover. He is, in short, every woman’s dream. Unfortunately, he is not Lucy’s dream. They are close friends and “perfect for each other,” according to their families, but they are simply not passionately in love.
Good Girl Lucy has been people pleasing for the past 17 years since she first came under the constant public spotlight endured by her very famous political family, but it is not until moments before her wedding is to begin, and with the emotional support of only one person, Meg, that she musters up the courage to say, “No,” to the wedding she doesn’t truly want, and she becomes a classic, “runaway bride,” fleeing Ted and Wynette. (Lucy’s story is told in The Great Escape, 2012.)
Rather than accepting Lucy’s decision as her own to make as a mature adult, Ted, his parents, Lucy’s parents, and every citizen of Wynette choose to scapegoat Meg, deciding that she is an evil, jealous woman who somehow “brainwashed” Lucy into doing the impossible, resisting Mr. Irresistible, so Meg could steal him for herself. Logically enough, one might think Meg would follow Lucy’s example and immediately flee from the incessant scorn and disgrace heaped upon her in Wynette. Unfortunately, she is dead broke, with only $20 cash, an empty bank account, and her last remaining credit card overdrawn. Since she can’t pay her $400 hotel bill, she is offered two choices by resentful Mayor Ted and the town’s stern Chief of Police, either be arrested for vagrancy or work off her unpaid bill as a maid at the hotel.
I’ve read everything that SEP has ever written, but though she is known for romantic comedy, more often than not, she writes soap opera, and this “enemies to lovers” romance, though it has an intriguing premise with comic potential, has been written far more as melodrama than as comedy. At most it is a “dramedy,” with occasional touches of comedy. (Of course, readers who enjoy melodrama and like SEP in spite of her reputation for writing romantic comedy, rather than because of it, may not be bothered by this.)
It is also extremely difficult to portray any romantic hero as sympathetic when the author chooses to, as SEP does in this book, write the story from only the heroine’s point of view for the first 80% of the book. Most of that time, Meg sees Ted as a jerk, which negatively colors our impression of him when we aren’t allowed to get into his head and hear his side of the story. In fact, it is only after the start of the Dark Period, when the lovers are separated and all seems lost (a classic part of every romance novel), that SEP finally allows us to experience Ted’s point of view. By by that point, it is almost too late to salvage his reputation with the reader as a likeable hero.
In addition, in the midst of the present #metoo moment in history that we as a society are experiencing, to me, the elements of misogyny in this 2011 romance novel stick out like the proverbial sore thumb. For my current taste, there are far too many cringe-worthy, misogynistic moments that I had a hard time tolerating as “funny,” which SEP clearly intended them to be. In particular:
The supposedly quirky and lovable Wynette town leaders (most especially the protagonists and main subcharacters from Lady Be Good, 1999) act as pimps, and the hero, Ted, colludes in it, when they all expect the heroine, Meg, to put up with the constant sexual harassment, including outright groping and eventual near rape, of a narcissistic, fifty-something blowhard of a plumbing-fixtures tycoon who is obsessed with Meg. The town leaders are all kissing the keister of this disgusting pervert in hopes that he will bring desperately needed jobs to Wynette by financing Ted’s would-be project of transforming the town dump into a golf course. It doesn’t get Ted off the hook for me that he is willing to be pimped out, too, on behalf of this potential business deal by allowing the greasy tycoon’s sexpot daughter to paw him, as well.
It was also difficult for me, to some degree, to sympathize with Meg because of her carelessly allowing herself to become dead broke when she had two months of notice from her parents that she needed to get a job. Instead, she chose to bury her head in the sand and live off her last, remaining credit card without bothering to keep track of how much of the available line of credit remained on the card, until she humiliated herself by hitting the maximum limit at the hotel in Wynette. It is difficult to sympathize with protagonists who get into trouble because of their own careless incompetence, especially a protagonist who is neither a naive teenager nor an inexperienced “new adult” in her early 20’s, but rather 30 years old.
I will continue to read every book SEP writes, but I personally only enjoy rereading a relative minority of them again and again, the ones which are true romantic comedies, rather than dramedies or outright soapy melodrama. Her true romantic comedies include:
1995 Heaven, Texas
1999 Lady Be Good
2000 First Lady
2002 Breathing Room (other than the creepy first meet between the romantic protagonists)
2005 Match Me If You Can
2007 Natural Born Charmer (my all-time favorite SEP novel)
I rate this book as follows:
Romance Plot: 3