Perfect Together
by Lisa Plumley, contemporary (2003)
Zebra, $6.50, ISBN 0-8217-7341-0


Want to witness how an author creates two perfect - perfect! - characters and then ruin everything by mutating these characters into horrifically stereotypical whiny and neurotic creatures page by page until it's as horrific as watching a steamroller slowly crush a car filled with screaming nuns? That's Lisa Plumley's Perfect Together. This book has me laughing out loud for three chapters, and that's as good as it gets before the author starts her systematic self-destruction of her story.

One of the biggest problems I've noticed in pretty much all of Lisa Plumley's books is that the author doesn't seem to know how to sustain the momentum of her story. She has ideas, but her inspiration only lasts a few chapters before she starts resorting to painfully childish and contrived scenarios to keep her books going on a little longer. Perfect Together is no different. Making things worse is that even if the author knows how Hollywood works, she is displaying zero knowledge here. No, forget what I said about Hollywood. Almost all the things that happen here won't happen if the people in this story has even a drop of rational thought in their heads.

Marley Madison's sitcom has been cancelled and now she can't get a new job. What is an out-of-job actress to do? Go apply - incognito - to a dating reality TV show. I don't know how this will help her career - Celebrity Mole did nothing career-wise for Kathy Griffin now, did it? - but there you go. I wonder how a supposedly popular actress can go anonymously on a nationally televised reality show. Don't reality shows make you sign reams and reams of disclosure or whatever forms that enable them to sue you if you lie about things?

On the other end of the spectrum, sports reporter Jake Jarvis is being marketed as a hot sex symbol, his Photoshopped Speedos-on-Billboard ads and more appearing on everywhere from cartoon networks (Nickolodeon) to highway networks. I pause to imagine why anyone would care over a sports reader, but never mind. Naturally, he and she are paired together, but Marley panics, because apparently a has-been actress is better off remaining on a lousy reality show than to be seen hanging about with the latest in-dude of Hollywood. Logic? What logic?

And from this illogical premise, this story soon dissolves into a dreary mess. Marley begins fretting and panicking over her - omigosh - lying about her identity to Jake. Since there is no logical foundation to her having to lie in the first place, forgive me if I fail to emphatize. Marley's increasingly over-the-top attempts to be "normal" becomes more and more... well, pathetic. This is a big pity because in the first three chapters, Marley is an amazingly spunky no-nonsense actress who has drive, ambitions, and a wacky sense of humor about life. How she encounters Jake in the waiting room of the auditions hall and how she floored him with a delightfully flirtatious come-on have me charmed and laughing out loud. I thought then, now this is a book to enjoy.

Same with Jake. At the start of the book, he is a very appealing hero - he is actually a short-sighted single father who's devoted to his fatherhood job and who is uncomfortable with his newfound fame. In short, he's the quissential nerd hunk type. But as the story progresses, he mutates into a judgmental, chauvinistic pig whose need to find a "normal" woman borders on neuroticism.

The author redeems herself a little in the last ten pages of this book, when both Marley and Jake finally face up to their emotional demons and finally confront their insecurities like adults. Unfortunately, this comes with a cost: Marley predictably sacrifices her career for "love" (read: motherhood, cleaning, cooking) and she, Jake, and that brat seal their future together in a gesture that causes a saccharine overload in me.

Lisa Plumley has created two wonderful characters. But thanks to her cluelessness when it comes to doing something with these characters, she inadvertently shoves these characters into the plot blender and ends up with minced meat instead. I only hope one day Ms Plumley finds a patient editor who will sit down beside her and work with her step by step on how to plot a book without running out of steam and worse, resorting to illogical and childish scenes to prolong the agony.

Rating: 68


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