Pretend I'm Not Here
by Chris Gavaler, contemporary (2002)
Harper, $6.99, ISBN 0-06-000253-0


Pretend I'm Not Here isn't your everyday romantic suspense, that's one good thing I can say. It's funny and it's also at-the-edge-of-my-seat gripping at times. It also has a strong, witty, and rather sardonic heroine. But ultimately this book leaves me feeling rather depressed. But that's for later.

Our heroine Ashley Farrell works for the TV show Who Wants To Be A Blind Date. Her job description include scanning various bachelor and bachelorette applicants for the show and then chaperoning the winning couple to St Thomas somewhere in the Caribbean on the "honeymoon" trip. She does this weekly, so St Thomas is like a second home to her. Ashley's not happy though. She dates normally, has a pretty decent sex life, but she just can't meet the right man.

She thinks she has meet the right man when she bumps into this man outside the plane toilet. The author really succeeds in bringing out the wonderful contradiction between Ashley's cynicism and the romantic in her that just wouldn't die. I begin to enjoy Ashley's voice and thoughts, heck, I think she's one cool gal.

At the resort is the notorious ex-wife of the gangster dude Richard Shilling, Zelda, and her bodyguards. When Ashley discovers one of Zelda's bodyguard dead, a mistaken identity thing causes everyone who counts (such as those with guns) to believe that Ashley is a super-duper assassin. Worse, her prince, Andrew McGuffin, may or may not be a bad guy himself. This is turning out to a holiday from hell.

Until this point, I'm still alright with the story. I love it, in fact. Ashley is a pretty good character, but the whole cynical-versus-romantic theme of this story is even better. Andrew is shaping up to be what seems like a bad boy dude, and the whole gangster conspiracy is fun. This is like Romancing The Stone crossed with a great episode of Scarecrow and Mrs King.

Then I scratch my head when Ashley turns into a one-woman Jane Bond. How on earth can she outwit assassins, corrupt cops, and all, I will never know, but this one has to be read to be believed. While I appreciate an able heroine, Ashley's survival skills are tad too far-fetched.

But even more disappointing is the resolution of the Ashley-Andy love thing. I hope I'm not giving away too much, but Andy turns out to be a cowardly, whiny, useless, incompetent, incapacitated, dishonorable, sniveling twat. If there is any redeeming feature about that useless waste of flesh, it's probably so microscopic I'd need an expensive electron microscope to detect it. And what does Ashley do? She decides to be pragmatic and accept life as it is (such as Andrew's the best she will ever get), and they two get down to business, the end. I stare at the last page in horror.

Excuse me, but since when does being pragmatic means settling for third-rate losers? Maybe this author is trying to do an inept feminist statement, ie "Equality for women means men being completely useless and dependent on women", but that's as primitive a concept as chauvinism itself. Andy is pathetic, and he really has no worthy trait that can make it worth Ashley's lowering her standards. So what is the author trying to say?

At light of this useless resolution, Ashley's cynicism and witty put-downs about love take on a rather tragic light. I'm all for realism and loving a man for his flaws as well as strengths, but Andy isn't even worthy of cleaning my toilet bowl. Ashley can do better - heck, if this book ends with a Randy-Melissa-Ashley menage, it'll still be better than the Ashley and Andy train wreck.

So yeah, Pretend I'm Not Here is pretty good. I'll just pretend the ending never happened.

Rating: 78


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