Sunday, September 29, 2013

Neanderthal Seeks Human; A Smart Romance by Penny Reid

Skeptic scale: 

This was a BAD book, you guys. Like incredibly, monumentally, horrifically silly. I feel sad for myself that I read it. I feel sad for the genre that it has been thus maltreated. That chick-lit has taken a step backwards into the dark days of the themes of the 80s. That we took all that was kitchy and hilarious about 50 Shades of Grey and turned it into this horrid, pepto-bismol hued travesty. Oof.

The issue: I guess my main problem with this book is that I found the heroine to be ridiculous. She was clueless, oblivious and very dumb, frankly. She's always having to be taken care of by others (her ex, her bff, the hero), and can't really seem to figure things out on her own. She is supposed to be quirky and cute with all the spouting off about random facts about legal codes and mathematics, but she just reminded me of a really ditsy version of Rain Man. The hero was also ridiculous, but I guess if you like the whole Alpha/Dom type, then he's just a cliched version of that hero archetype. 

Why was I so upset? I was offended by all this because we should have MOVED ON from these types of heroines by now. These helpless, silly victims who are smart but only in a vague, totally useless way. We have so many wonderful examples of how we can do this plot in a more elegant way that doesn't belittle the female character to the point that she is a weak, pathetic entity. I feel like an opportunity was wasted here - and that frustrated me.

The plot
Allow me to provide a blow-by-blow synopsis of the salient plot points and while it may seem that I am I'm cherry picking only the most ludicrous ones, I assure you I am not. As you will soon see for yourselves, ALL the plot points are ludicrous. 

Girl whose life is falling apart in slow, painful motion meets boy: We open on the pot. As in the porcelain throne. The crapper. The john. There is a rather funny description of our heroine, who I shall hereafter refer to as "h", losing her shit. Pun intended. She's just been fired, you see. Also, she's found out that her boyfriend of many years has been unfaithful. And that she's going to be homeless pretty soon because she obviously can't live with her faithless jerk of an ex-bf now. 

So far so good, right? Fun set up. Snappy writing. Girl is both charmingly frazzled and clearly needs some good luck in her life. As purveyors of chick lit, we know that there couldn't be a more ripe situation for Mr. Oh So Right to stride in than when the chick's life is falling to pieces about her ears. 

And true to form, the hero (hereafter, referred to as "H") appears not 6 pages into the slowly unfolding train wreck of the h's life. He comes not so much as a conquering hero, but in the person of a uniformed security guard to escort her off the premises. Not a lot of dialogue except for her slightly hysterical ramblings (we rapidly learn that she has some kind of un-diagnosed Asperger's symptoms and a history of reality-avoidance that springs from her difficult childhood). The H remains impassive and stoic but we know he's obviously struck by this blubbering ingenue. Think Bridget Jones but with more talking. We also suspect that there is something more to the man than his apparent profession as a security guard. Not because of any particular clue except that we know that in Romancelandia no one falls in love with a security guard. I'm not being an elitist dick. It just would never happen.

Girl and boy continue to meet while laboring under series of misunderstandings: After a vaguely flirtatious elevator ride as he is escorting her out of the building, she finds herself in a limo being chauffeured home by an affable stereotype, Vince. She's briefly visited by the uneasy question of WHY SHE'S IN A LIMO IF SHE'S JUST BEEN FIRED, but pushes that out of the way to concentrate on ruminating on how embarrassed she was that the H had seen her in her worst moment.

The next time H & h's paths cross is random. She is at a bar with her bff. He happens to be at the same bar. He seems to be a bouncer of some sort. He appears to enjoy her smexy get up (smoldering gaze, lingering glances) but advises her to leave the bar since its not the type of place for nice girls like her. Her friend, a doctor is called away urgently but the h returns to the bar with the intention of seeing the mysterious dude again. 

We learn what happens next in flashback, but here's where things start getting a little eyebrow raising in terms of logic and rational behavior. Apparently, the h returns and is spotted by some dastardly men who roofie her drink. She blacks out and is saved (of course) by he H. She wakes up in a compromising-seeming position in a strange bed learns what happens from the H who is right out of a shower looking manly and delicious. He assures her that "nothing happened" with those guys or him (except for her getting ROOFIED). Then they go for brunch. Hmmm... seems about right. Get roofied at night, seem to be utterly underwhelmed by the news that you almost got horribly violated and go for brunch the next morning with the security guard you've been secretly ogling.

While at brunch, he learns that she's got a photographic memory and is amazing with numbers and can spout off random facts at will. He says he can get her a job at his firm in the accounting department and hands her his card telling her to call. Here's where the series of misunderstandings begins. He repeatedly says its HIS company, so even a blind and deaf mole could read the subtext and surmise that he means he OWNS the company and it is HIS. She is so charmingly oblivious that she basically thinks he means "his" in the general way that means "company where he works". Ok. Ha ha. What fun it'll be when she finds out in 2 seconds when she asks him the specific question about this company. Not. In fact. This dummy doesn't figure this out for more than half the book. 

She obviously gets the job and now that they work closely with one another, they embark on a more serious flirtation that eventually leads to sex. The H now turns into some kind of watered-down Christian Grey character (penthouse, fancy car, grim outward persona/inner turmoil, insistence on her being "kept" - provides her with a job, her own security detail, buys her a cell phone, insists she move into a fancy apartment that he provides. There's even a lame recreation of the Christian Grey/Anna Steele emailing thing, but this time in the form of even lamer text messages. Oh and I forgot to mention how his lawyers draw up a contract that is meant to "protect" her job even in case of the dissolution of their relationship. Different from the Christian Grey contract, true, but still idiotic.) The eye rolling was almost uncontrollable. 

The passion between H & h continues to grow in a weird and disturbing way and to create even more "urgency" the writer also introduces a plot by the h's criminally inclined sister, a couple of rough thugs and a fight scene that involves the h's knitting circle.

Anyway, the writing remained engaging and snappy till the end. Despite the incredibly silliness of the plot, I did find myself smiling several times throughout the book at the entertaining language.

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