Avon, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-06-232548-8
Contemporary Fiction, 2014 (Reissue)
Stephanie Evanovich is the niece of Janet Evanovich, I believe. There was some drama when this book first came out in hardcover format last year, when the more sensibility-challenged fans of Janet Evanovich took a break from worshiping effigies of Joe Morelli or Ranger to accuse Stephanie Evanovich of trying to cash in on the other author’s name for instant success. You have to admit, though, this book may not have achieved such notability if it had been written by, say, Stephanie Emodavich. Of course, the outrage certainly helped to elevate the notability status of this book even further.
Despite being marketed as “fiction”, Big Girl Panties is definitely a romance story, although its conventions mirror those of romantic comedy movies or chick-lit fiction more than those found in conventional romance novel formula. However, I should also point out that while heroine Holly Brennan starting out as “massively obese”, this isn’t a body positive or body acceptance story. It’s never about the bass here – it’s all treble. Holly loses weight in order to gain her man, and for the bulk of the story, Logan is fighting back his feelings for her because his lust is mixed with, at first, a degree of revulsion at her body weight and, later when she has lost weight, the fact that she isn’t his usual skinny and superficial type of girlfriend. At the end of the day, thin is still beautiful here, make no mistake.
Holly, as I’ve mentioned, is a very overweight lady whose habit of binge eating on junk food doesn’t help any. A widow at 32, she is a mess. When she squeezes herself into a seat next to Logan Montgomery, a personal trainer, she is attracted to his superb physique and good looks, at the same time that he is fighting back his disgust at having her bulk being pressed against his finely chiseled Adonis-type body. He finds himself listening to her sad story and decides to offer his services to her – this is a change from his increasingly boring routine of training athletes and such. Naturally, she falls for him and he… takes his time to sort of his feelings as he helps her shed the pounds.
I have no issues with the premise of this story. No, my problem lies in how the author handles the romance. It’s completely unbelievable and there are signs that the whole thing would break apart in two weeks should this story take place in real life.
The issue is in how the characters are written here. Logan is very shallow, while Holly is very emotionally needy. It’s a recipe for disaster.
I find myself cringing quite often because, through Logan’s point of view, this book can really make me awful about the extra pounds I’m packing on these days. Not that I’m compelled to lose weight or anything like that, because Logan is quite the superficial sort that won’t distract me anytime soon from my torrid love affair with chocolates. That degree of superficiality is quite expected where I’m concerned – Logan is, after all, a personal trainer and folks like him tend to admire their reflections in the mirror and marvel at how much better they are compared to the rest of us who are bogged down with cellulite and more. No loss, as chocolates and ice creams are so much more easier to swallow, but Logan’s personality isn’t so out of type. He has some moments of kindness – he has his moments in helping Holly get over her issues – but I hope for Holly’s sake that she is never privy to his thoughts about her. He’d probably dump her some time down the road should she lose her fight with gravity and age one of these days.
Logan has a history of sleeping with his female clients, but I’m supposed to believe that this time, it is different. Why? I guess it’s because Holly is the heroine. The romance has a pathetic ring to it, though, as it’s basically the tale of the fat chick, already in love with the hot guy, having that guy in question help her lose weight and shed her mental baggage along the way. Holly gets the obligatory “I’m now a confident girl” moment – easy for that to happen when you’re finally skinny, I guess – but it happens through the most clichéd method possible: by tearing down other skinny beautiful women. You know the drill, I’m sure: Logan’s other boink-mates are vicious cows, shallow hogs, et cetera. I personally think these bitches are, at least, honest where Logan isn’t, but they don’t have a penis and thus are competition for Logan’s white upper class version of Jersey Shore type of affections, so they must be taken down with extreme prejudice. Shallow guys? Hot. Shallow women? Bitches.
I’m confused by this, because on one hand. the shallow guy is desirable and Holly has to slim down and meet his physical standards to finally get him. This is, essentially, a celebration of and vindication for skinny bitches everywhere who’d change what they look like for a guy. But at the same time, other women who want what Holly wants and meet the physical standards Holly aspires to are torn down and eventually rejected by the hero. So, what’s the message here? Big Girl Panties embodies the best and the worst of the thin-is-beautiful side of Tumblr, in the most confused manner too.
As a result, the romance doesn’t seem like something that could arise naturally. I feel that Logan and Holly are forced to fall in love by the author because the story demands it. There are still many issues between them – you can thank me for not saying “weighty issues”, heh – that are not resolved properly by the last page for me to see these two as anything but a train wreck in the making.
On the bright side, this book is very readable if you can get past the superficial elements in this story. Stephanie Evanovich has an easy and natural way with comedy that is evident, although there are also moments when she overreaches and tries too hard to make her secondary characters memorable to the point that she confuses sassy with fake and cloying.
At any rate, Big Girl Panties has its moments, but its cringe-inducing moments far outnumber the more pleasant ones. Stick with the chocolates – at least chocolates always makes us feel good. We won’t be stuck with a guy whose affection for us hinges heavily on how much we weigh on the scale.