I Think I Love You
by Stephanie Bond, contemporary (2002)
St Martin's Press, $6.99, ISBN 0-312-98333-6

Yes, I don't know how to have fun. I'm a sad woman that doesn't like to have fun, because I love the movie The Royal Tenenbaums, a tale of dysfunctional kids making up with their parents, but Stephanie Bond's latest book I find tedious, formulaic, and only mildly entertaining in an airport read way. And yes, I probably kick puppies for fun and rip the teeth out of a baby's mouth.

Sorry, I'm just having a little fun. Some of the enthusiastic reviews for this book that I have read make me scratch my head a little - that's okay, everyone has different preferences, et cetera, but I do wish I have read that version of I Think I Love You that they love so much. What I have is a three bickering siblings scenario done better by Olivia Goldsmith in Marrying Mom, a Gothic-like murder case that doesn't gel with the rest of the tone of this story, and three poster girls of chicklit stereotypes.

Three sisters: Justine, the eldest and also the married-man-eating power bitch, Regina the eager-to-please prim and proper middle sister, and Mica, the stupid baby of the family. Guess who is the "main" heroine that is obviously the one we readers are supposed to emphatize with. If you guess Regina or Mica - it's Regina, by the way - yay. You know how the game is played already.

Bitch, Doormat, and Men's Punching Bag are three sisters who share a secret - they witnessed the death of their aunt. Now, all three are no longer close. See, Dean Haviland proposed to Justine a few years back, ran off with Mica leaving Justine at the altar, and screwed all three of them (at different times, of course). Now, Mica is living with him. He beats her every day and she is shocked - shocked! - when she realizes that she has gotten the clap from him. He is cheating on her! Does this mean that he doesn't love her? That dumb woman must believe that he must have punched her in the face out of love.

Justine, in the meantime, is shot by a vengeful woman whose husband Justine is sleeping with. Demoted - and one step from being sacked - and probably stalked by the gun-toting woman still on the loose, she decides to head off to Mommy and Daddy's for some laying low.

Mica, now a VD virus incubator, goes home too.

Mommy and Daddy, never married, are separating. Naturally, Regina, the Doormat, is going home too, ready to shoulder all the blame in the world.

The old murder case resurfaces. All three sisters find new men. Family secrets drag themselves out in the open like stinking corpses from one's closet. Fun for people who always want confirmation that everyone living down South is two-thirds whacked and one-third sad. "Ya-ya" is a rallying cry for the parade of pathetic Jerry-Springer-lovin' victims of the South.

I actually feel angry because this story has potential. The mystery is the strongest part of this book, because everything else is pure plain contrivances. Will it kill Ms Bond to show even a little of the charm that have all three sisters eating out of his hand? No, Dean here is pure slime, thus making all three sisters the new Medusas of Pure Stupidity. Will it drive Ms Bond into agonizing seizures to give each sister at least one original trait or to make them human a little? Will it ruin her career if the three sisters don't get gift-wrapped men in neat ribboned closures by the end of the story?

This book needs to stray a little off the well-trodden path to work. Dean needs to be less slimy and more of a seductive Lothario. The three sisters, frankly, are united in neuroses, lack of brainpower, and codependency. Instead of giving me the funnies, I Think I Love You - I always find that Patridge Family song gruesome anyway - depresses me no end. I appreciate that the author doesn't shy away from the grim realities of adultery and divorces but...

This is a prime example of a book ruined by shoddy characterization. Heck, I don't like Bitch, Doormat, and Men's Punching Bag, and the thing is, I don't think Ms Bond does either. For a romance, well, this is different, yes, but at the same time, there are many more better stories of this ilk available. Because I Think I Love You, one foot out the door wanting to break into mainstream women's fiction and another foot still wanting to adhere to the limiting constraints of the Romance Novel Formula, sure doesn't make any sense at all in the end.

Rating: 50

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