by Marianna Jameson, contemporary (2005)
Signet Eclipse, $6.99, ISBN 0-451-21565-6
Marianna Jameson's debut My Hero is polished and the characters experience growth and soul-searching as the story progresses, albeit with rather stereotypical lessons to be learned at the end of the day. The fact that the hero Chas Casey is thirty-eight makes him comes off as more than a little immature when it comes to him and his issues aside, this book is an above average debut. What makes it memorable though is the fact that the heroine in this book, Miranda Lane, is a romance author and there are plenty of chuckles to be had in Marianna Jameson's version of the romance novel industry.
For example, when Miranda moans that her new editor complains that her books are too "formulaic" and this editor suggests that Miranda tries to do something new by changing her hero into an alpha action man hero, I suspect that Marianna Jameson is trying really hard to stifle guffaws of sardonic laughter. To give Ms Jameson plenty of credit, she doesn't fall into the trap like the likes of Sherrilyn Kenyon did when these authors try to depict their own occupation: while many romance authors write as if romance books are all about steamy sex that set off all the volcanoes in the Pacific, Ms Jameson instead tries to show that romance novels are more than just about sex. However, Ms Jameson unfortunately comes off as holier-than-thou at times when she writes things like:
"We may be laughed at by snobs and sneered at by intellectuals and ignored by The New York Times Book Review, but I doubt John Grisham or Tom Clancy or James Patterson get nearly as many letters from people saying that their books soothed a trouble soul or healed a breach or changed a life."
"Is your book going to change mine?"
"Only if you let it, Chas."
If we want to defend the genre, aren't we opening a different can of worms altogether by suggesting that the romance genre is somehow more important and earthshatteringly significant compared to "mere" Tom Clancy? Passion is one thing but presumptuous condescension? I don't know, Ms Jameson. I mean, this book isn't going to change my life anytime soon!
Oh yes, the story. I do apologize for going off-tangent, but really, that's how fascinating I find this book as an insight into the psyche of a romance author. The story itself is a rather ordinary, if well-written, story of our author Miranda looking for a muse to help her write these alpha male heroes when all she has ever written in the past are Southern gentlemanly heroes. In a nice tumbling-domino pile-up of coincidences, Miranda happens to shoot our hero Chas in a paintball game and he happens to be her blind date and he also happens to be a cop that she starts deciding to shape her hero after. On one hand, she has to conform to her editor's demands as her old publishing house has been merged into some publishing conglomerate and she may be dropped like other authors under her old editor if she doesn't play by the rules of the new regime. Because a romance heroine isn't one unless she starts tormenting herself with some bizarre guilt that very few people in real life can actually relate to, Miranda starts to go, "... He's a good man and the son of a hero, and I'm using him, secretly, for my own commercial purposes. Surely that falls under the heading of sleaze."
Of course they will fall into bed first and later they will have to confront issues playing havoc on their getting to their happily-ever-after.
Miranda has all sorts of very typical Daddy Where Art Thou issues that have been done to death before and unfortunately her issues are given a rather generic treatment by the author. There's nothing particularly new there. My reaction to her is an uncharitable "Oh great, another one. Can we end this quickly so that I can go get something to eat?" As for Chas, he learns a rather typical lesson: it's one thing to be like the hero of a Clint Eastwood movie when you're twenty-eight, dashing and savvy and wanting no commitment other than one to the job, but a man at thirty-eight trying to be dashing and savvy while drooling over nineteen year old girls is pathetic. He has wanted to be a cop all his life and he doesn't want a wife or kids to be burdened by him and vice-versa, but later, as his feelings for Miranda develop beyond the superficial, he will have to find a way to fit her into his life.
Still, for all their derivative background and characterization, Miranda and Chas, once they move past their rather forced "perky" banters into a more spontaneous kind of chemistry, make a credible couple in love and they experience enough character growth, however hackneyed this may be, to convince me that they have mellowed enough to make a relationship between them work. I like that in My Hero.
Ultimately, though, I find this book more interesting as an attempt by a romance author to place what is most likely a little more emphasis on her books and their Worth to the World, more significance than they actually warrant, perhaps. It's a pretty good in-joke too as a running commentary of us readers' infatuation on alpha males. The fact that this book is well-written is only icing on the cake - the abundance of meta-textual material in here for in-jokes and what-not make what would have been an otherwise well-written but formulaic book more memorable than it would have been otherwise. In this, Ms Jameson has it right: perhaps her books will have more importance when compared to other generic and formulaic books out there. Well-written character-driven drama is what I believe drives a good romance story to the finish line and My Hero shows that Ms Jameson seems to know this very well.
This book at Amazon.com
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