March 21, 2004

Bet Me by Jennifer Crusie

betme.jpgI read a lot of science fiction and fantasy. The mainstream literary world has a tendency to ghettoize genre fiction, classifying it as fundamentally slight in comparison to "serious" fiction. As someone who reads "mainstream" fiction as well as "genre" fiction, I'm in a position to recognize that there are at least as many artfully written books in SF as there are outside of it. Being aware of this form of literary bigotry in others allows me to recognize it in myself when it comes to other genres. Like romance. I have caught myself slipping into a dismissive tone when the subject of romance fiction comes up. In an effort to cure myself of this malady, I asked my sister-in-law Rachel to suggest a few good romances for me to read. She gave me a stack of four books as a sample and I read this one first since it was due back to the library first.

Minerva Dobbs is an actuary with a weight problem: she thinks she's fat. We meet her in a bar as she is being dumped by her current boyfriend, David. It's immediately clear to the reader that David is a jerk and she's better off without him. Still, rejection is painful and Min seeks solace with her two girlfriends, the sweet traditional blonde Bonnie and the independent fiery redhead Liza. On the "get back on the horse" theory, her friends cast around the bar for Min's next conquest and their eyes alight on Calvin Morrisey. Cal is your basic god among men. He's a fabulous babe. Min is intimidated, but after some alcoholic persuasion she moves across the room towards the hunk where she overhears part of the male side of this drama. It seems that Cal has just made a bet that he can bed Min. What she doesn't hear is that it's her ex, David, inciting the bet and that Cal doesn't want to take it but instead bets that he can take her to dinner. The other confusion is that Min thinks the bet is for $10 (which the dinner bet is), but the bedding bet (or non-bet depending who you ask) is for $10,000. Min retreats, Cal advances, she decides to play him a bit (she needs a date for her sister's wedding at the end of the month) so they go to dinner and have a dreadful time. And things move on from there.

So there's big cliches here, but Crusie puts in some interesting twists. I liked that Min knows there's a bet since it completely changes the usual bet storyline. What makes the book a hoot to read are the interestingly neurotic characters (and their interestingly psychotic exes and parents). The book is close to 80% dialogue and it's fun snappy dialogue. I suspect it's not a spoiler to say that Cal and Min end up together, and while I pretty much assumed this would be the case from the beginning, there are enough ups and downs to make it somewhat ambiguous.

There's lots of thematic subplots. The psychological theory of relationships is contrasted with the fairy tale theory. Issues about female body image and food. Chosen families vs. birth families.

This is the first romance I've read since junior high when everyone was passing around Judy Blume's Forever in a copy that fell open to the naughty bits. As an SF reader I'm almost blind to the conventions of the SF genre, but I know they're there even when I don't notice them. One of the things in this book that jumped out at me as odd was the wildly shifting point of view. We are privy to the thoughts of all the main focus characters in a way that I don't generally see in the books I read. I thought it was odd how calculating the characters were. They were frequently thinking several moves ahead in how their actions would affect what the other characters would do in a way that seemed alien to me. The other thing that struck me was that I don't think I have ever read a book with as much description of clothing and decor.

I had fun reading the book. It's very funny and the characters are people I wouldn't mind knowing.

Posted by jeffy at March 21, 2004 03:32 PM