by Patti Berg, contemporary (2003)
Avon, $5.99, ISBN 0-380-82005-6
Lumbering like a clumsy elephant doing a balancing act on a fine thread, Patti Berg's last midlist title (her next book will be a lead title from Avon) is like a bizarre hybrid of a parody of bad sleuth novels and a clumsy misfire of a romance. Very little makes sense in the town of Plentiful, Wyoming - so if this book has been a parody, it would still work. Unfortunately, the author seems to believe that she is writing a mere smalltown zany romantic comedy.
But what turns me off this book is the fact that the romance between ex-cop Logan Wolfe and stupid neurotic whackjob Scarlett O'Malley is conducted under a microscope. The townspeople of Plentiful, apparently nobody else single and under the age of forty (one or two exceptions for future books, naturally), openly eavesdrop, peer through windows, and gleefully spill and spread gossips and rumors. The author may believe that this town is a fun and homely place. I say razing this place down to the ground and banishing those privacy-raping gossip-mongoring fiends to concentration camps is too good a fate for them.
Scarlett is the baby of the town. This means that everybody uses the "we care for you" excuse to dissect and spy and eavesdrop on her every single move. She opens a bookstore that somehow manages to stay in business despite having what I believe are only two - three? - customers throughout this book, and none of them actually paying her for books. One, in fact, died. Then again, she has an inheritance, and you know romance heroines. Give them a million dollars and they will still whine about their lack of breastage without even splurging on silicone. Idiots, them all.
She has three elderly companions who profess to be sleuths. Apparently the four of them have solved several cases, much to her stepfather Adam's disgust. Adam is the local lawman. Our heroine first hear of the hero when he is seen "courting" an old lady. The three hags should know - they barge into the eatery, sit at the next table, and gleefully try to eavesdrop before reporting everything they hear to Scarlett and whoever else that will listen to them. Wolfe thinks she's hot. But can they have a happy ever after when an old woman dies in Scarlett's store and the whole town is suspicious of Wolfe? Who is Logan Wolfe anyway?
Nothing makes sense in this book. Logan Wolfe is stopped and interrogated by pretty much everyone he encounters here, and I think he's a better man for not beating these obnoxious and rude busybodies down. Even the men here aren't above such behavior. Disgusting, really. When Wolfe tries to see why Scarlett is screaming in her store, her stepfather actually demands to know if Wolfe is doing that out of "curiosity" or "his interest in Scarlett". I guess he doing this because he fears someone may be in trouble is out of the realm of possibility, at least here in Plentiful.
Whenever we have Logan or Scarlett kissing, the next scenes will be men harrassing or questioning him or women doing the same to Scarlett. Spill the beans, they wanna hear it. That is, if they haven't been staring avidly from the sidewalks or from a window. Scarlett walks into an eatery after the Death In The Store event, and every pair of eyes turns to openly stare at her. People who profess to love Scarlett and suspect Logan (he's a newcomer after all) see no qualms in revealing Scarlett's family stories (especially the part where she's considered a crackpot by everyone) to Logan.
I'm creeped out. Don't these people have lives? Do they exist just to stalk Scarlett and Logan and spy on their every move?
The mystery is perplexing because - well, let's just say that if you ask me to write down a list of suspects, the first three names will be Scarlett's three psycho old biddy friends. Next will be everyone else in this town. If we do a background check on them, I bet we will find a trail of dead cats and Democrats buried under the basement all over the town. The characters don't act in rational manner and they don't have their priorities in order. Also, Scarlett is a bit on the psychotic side. She is the person who will go "eek eek eek" when she thinks of the unpleasant dead old lady in her shop because the old woman had died alone, apparently, without anybody to tell the old lady "I love you". Of course, this is just her making the old lady All About Scarlett. Scarlett has commitment issues because she suspects that her father has driven her mother to death. Or something. Like everything else about this story, she, it, they, he, everything makes little sense.
But what makes some sense is how in the beginning of the story, the author seems to be spoofing Janet Evanovich. The popular mystery series everyone in Plentiful loves stars a too-stupid-to-live heroine in books like One Is The Deadliest Number, Two Murders Are Better Than One, and all the way to Seven Sins. The excerpt of a hilariously bad "erotic suspense" novel will make any mystery reader cringe in shame. This is Patti Berg's revenge on behalf of the relentless stereotyping of romance readers in the media: in Stuck On You, the prose of these mystery novels are hilariously purple, the readers of the mystery genre are whackjobs who channel their own neuroses into suspecting government conspiracies everywhere, and the male mystery readers are horny losers who just want to sleep with buxom PIs. Logan really cracks me up in one unintentionally funny scene when he lusts after the heroine of those stupid mystery novels only to conclude sadly that she feels like "paper and ink". Uhm, dude, she's a character in a book. She is paper and ink. But don't let that stop you.
If the author has pull out all stops and go ahead with an outrageous parody of a story that spoofs the sleuth and mystery genre, Stuck On You will be a joy to read. But somewhere around page 100, the story dives into a more "serious" comedy style, but the relentlessly intrusive unfunny secondary characters really turn me off with their really rude and often stupid behavior. Laboring under this impression that these smalltown whackjobs are actually warm and funny matchmaker figues, Ms Berg gives them so much screentime that it is like Ted Bundy's cult has overrun town and discovered SNL.
I'm tempted to dismiss this book as something... well, too bizarre for words, but I hesitate. In the opening chapter, one of the three old hags from hell complain that the heroine of those mystery novels is too stupid to live, upon which another old hag tells the old lady that, I quote, "But if she didn't do crazy things on occassion, if she didn't get herself in risky situations, the books would be dull, not to mention boring, and not one of us would buy them."
Ooh, a sneaky woman, that Ms Berg, I tell you. She has provided an escape clause right there in her own story - a method in her madness, if you will. I can argue until the cows come home about how she may have overplayed her hand in making her characters doing too many crazy things here, but what's the use? If this book flies off the shelves and sells zillions of copies, the truth will be revealed: the real comedy will be how this book inadvertently parodies us romance readers.
Patti Berg - genius or just lucky? Like the wise would say, the truth is out there. Somewhere. Whatever. Stuck On You. Heh. This is a fascinating conondrum. It's just too bad that its surfeit of whackjob antics annoys me more than it amuses me over its (deliberate?) multi-layered parody value.
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