Though I mostly read women’s & literary fiction, sci-fi/fantasy, and graphic novels, I like to return to my first love, romance novels for occasional reminders about what makes for a good book — not in critics eyes, but in reader’s. Literary novels often have so many problems that romance novels don’t — lack of plot, meandering plot, vague purpose, and incomplete endings. And romance novels have so many problems that literary novels don’t — characters that don’t make any sense because they’re plot puppets, predictable endings, characters falling in love at first sight (mostly due to physical attractiveness), and uniformity of heroines (almost all are virginal or freshly dumped and beautiful — but they don’t know it or spend any time maintaining it). So it’s terrific to read a novel in either genre that doesn’t fall into any of those traps. Susan Elizabeth Phillips is one of those novelist who consistently avoids those traps, so here are my notes on her latest offering, CALL ME IRRESISTABLE.
Why I Decided to Read It: Susan Elizabeth Phillips has been one of my favorite contemporary authors since I was like thirteen. I read her second book, HOT SHOTS, and I’ve read every one ever since. She’s also one of the few authors I bought in hardcover during the starving artists years.
What’s it About: This is basically the Dark Tower of the SEP world, where almost all the main characters that have been featured in her past books cameo in this one. The story’s male lead is Ted Beaudine, a character who was introduced as the 9yo surprise son of the main characters of FANCY PANTS, an early SEP novel. We’ve caught glimpses of him and have pretty much seen him grow up through cameos in other books. Meg Koranda, the female lead, is also the daughter of characters from a previous book. She’s been cut off from her family’s money for being a world traveler with no direction, but somehow she limps into Wynette, Texas for the wedding of her perfect best friend, Lucy Jorik (the daughter of another set of main characters), and Wynette’s golden boy and reluctant mayor, Ted Beaudine. Meg senses that her BFF doesn’t want to go through with the wedding and ends up sparking a runaway bride situation, which both Ted and the town blames her for. But Meg doesn’t have enough money to get out of dodge, so she ends up working menial labor jobs at the town’s inn and golf course.
What Makes It Different: This was actually a fun character dynamic. I love that the town was so in love with Ted, and Meg was like, “Um, you’re not that great” for completely valid reasons (he’s a pushover and really inauthentic).
What I Loved: Like most SEP novels, this one had a certain cynical charm with characters that treat each other poorly but are for the most part perfectly lovely people once they get to know each other. I also loved that though I know who will end up together in the end, I have no idea how. SEP always makes getting to the end of a romance novel a fun, page-turning ride.
What I Didn’t Like: Pretty much the cornerstone of any SEP novel is a banging B-story. Often I like the B-story, which is usually between characters that don’t often get the romance spotlight shined on them (older, younger, married, all sorts of random), more than the A-story. CALL ME IRRESISTIBLE doesn’t have a B-story — I think because there are so many cameos that there just wasn’t enough room to squeeze one in. However, the cameos kind of turn into Tribbles — they’re cute at first, but then they quickly become too many to keep straight. I spent way too much time trying to remember which characters belonged to which story. Also, much like Mercedes in the television show GLEE, this novel features a funny, perfectly attractive, recurring black female character who never gets to hook up with anyone while absolutely everyone around her pairs off. Hopefully this will be solved by a B-story in a future novel.
Writing Lessons Learned:
Situation, Situation, Situation: SEP is the queen of romance novel situations. While other writers have their characters go off somewhere private to argue, SEP will make it so that her main female character has to sort things out in a room full of people who hate her w/o letting on that she and the male lead are in a relationship. It’s a great writing lesson. Don’t be afraid to surprise and/or embarrass your main character. The reader loves a good cringe. So if a scene is feeling a bit dry, think about putting your characters in a better situation.
Strip your character of their main superficial asset. I love novels in which characters are stripped of their beauty or their money or some other superficial asset at the beginning. It allows the lead to start in a vulnerable place and allows the reader to really cheer for her as she goes about discovering who she really is.
Your character’s “real job.” Obviously, this is a favorite plot point of mine as I used it in both 32 CANDLES and my upcoming novel THE AWESOME GIRL’S GUIDE TO DATING EXTRAORDINARY MEN. People bash Americans for being too job-oriented, but it’s a wonderful, romantic thing in my opinion when both fictional and IRL characters find what they are really meant to do. Meg’s found job is both believable and well-executed.
To Whom Would I Recommend This Book: Longtime fans of SEP — otherwise start from the beginningish (HOT PANTS) and work your way up to this one.
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