by Susan Donovan, contemporary (2005)
St Martin's Press, $6.99, ISBN 0-312-99233-5
Susan Donovan deserves a huge case of M&M candies for coming up with a romantic comedy that isn't like any derivative smalltown romances with sheriffs and undercover secret agents. He Loves Lucy is the ultimate romantic comedy that matches a truly overweight nearly-300 pound heroine with the hot jock from Perfect Physiqueville. Do take note though, readers, that this isn't a body shape acceptance romance. The heroine Lucy Cunningham loses weight before finding love. There is nothing wrong with this in my opinion but some readers may be disappointed if they pick this book up hoping for... well, something else.
Lucy Cunningham works at an advertizing agency and she has scored the Holy Grail in her opinion: she lands the company the Palm Club account, which is the biggest client the struggling company has ever had. Palm Club is an up-and-coming gym club franchise in Miami. The advertizing campaign will be a reality TV type of event: a trainer of Palm Club will try and get an overweight woman to lose up to a hundred pounds within a year, with the progress aired on the morning show WakeUp Miami. The woman will get a thousand dollars for every ten pound she loses up to a maximum of a hundred grand. Hot trainer Theo Redmond with his good looks and physique is a natural candidate for this PR stunt. The woman? Why, that would be Lucy. Lucy doesn't mind - a hundred grand will go a long way in helping her start her own advertizing agency. For Lucy, Theo is a mega-crush candidate at first sight. Oh dear, this has to work out right for Lucy, right? Yoo-hoo, Theo? Look at Lucy! (Okay, not like that, like this, Theo!)
There are so many good things about this book. Lucy, for example, is on her own a great heroine with very realistic insecurities about her size without coming off like some victim or someone desperately in need of psychiatry examination. She has a great support network in a family that don't come off as patronizingly cutesy. Theo is also fabulous as a non-player hero who devotes his time and energy to repicking up the pieces of his life and getting back to medical school after dropping out to take care of his teenage brother with Down Syndrome. There is a memorable and intriguing moment when Theo loses his temper at the way he has to sacrifice so much to take care of his brother only to lose his ex-girlfriend in the process, which makes him human rather than selfish in my opinion, but on the whole, he is a genuinely beta hero who is sensitivity, charm, and hotness personified. The perfect Prince Charming in this fantasy of fatty-finds-hottie, if you will. Very little distracts from this immaculately-conceived fantasy, including a sabotage subplot that is more cartoonish than threatening. From the start to the finish, this book is a fantasy of the sweetest kind liberally lavished with humor.
I should love this book better. I am, after all, the person who has seen Never Been Kissed five times. However, I do find some mixed messages in this book that has my cynicism waving a red flag in my head. For example, Theo will tell Lucy that her weight isn't everything, which is fine if he doesn't start noticing her only after she has lost some thirty pounds. By the last page, he is telling Lucy that he loves her for what she is and all that, all I can think of is, "Dude, you and the whole world don't start caring for her until she signs up for this public fat farm event and starts losing weight." I have nothing against overweight women finding love or overweight women losing weight, it's just that the author tries to backtrack and starts putting in this "beauty isn't only skin deep message" thing into her story after she has proven that the amount of fat layers in your body does obscure your beauty, so the whole fantasy starts to ring false. Calculated, even. I hope Ms Donovan is being subversively sarcastic when she has Theo taking Lucy to a place where he says that Lucy's appearance doesn't matter and this place turns out to be the Special Olympics because this kind of sarcasm is priceless. If she is being deliberately snarky, that is, which I hope she is.
If the romance is stronger, I would overlook these inconsistencies in the fantasy. But it isn't. Theo keeps saying that Lucy's weight doesn't matter, but since he's pushing her to lose weight, his initial impression of her is that she would be good-looking if she isn't so overweight, and he deigns to notice her only after her poundage start falling, the more he insists that he loves her for her personality, the more I look back at his previous actions and thoughts of Lucy and the more I wonder who Ms Donovan is trying to fool. Lucy seems to lose weight because of Theo rather than because of herself because she gives up on her plan the moment she and Theo reach their first bump in their road to their happily-ever-after. Ms Donovan has Lucy saying once or twice that Lucy is losing weight for herself first and foremost but Lucy's actions and thoughts (Theo, Theo, Theo, Theoooooooo!) don't reflect this, especially when I factor in the rather pathetic fact that Lucy is telling herself that she looooooves Theo even before she knows him just because he is hot. Theo comes off like a girl's one-sided crush on some football jock whom she has idealized and romanticized in her daydreams.
I'm happy for Lucy that she lands her fantasy guy but I wish that there are some depths in this relationship that tells me that Theo will love Lucy if she happens to balloon up in size sometime in the future. Yes, they make each other laugh, yes, he is a nice guy who loves his brother, but these are traits for great friends as much as good spouses. There should be more, I think.
Actually, if Ms Donovan has not pushed down my throat the whole condescending spiel about Theo loving Lucy for Lucy (he noticed her only after she started losing weight - please don't try to pretend otherwise, shall we?), I won't be so hard on the inconsistencies in this book when it comes to the beauty ideal versus beauty being more than skin deep. In fact, the only thing this book ends up preaching is that only skinny and beautiful people have the luxury of insisting that beauty is indeed more than skin deep, just like how in real life it is always those rich people that are forever complaining that money is the root of all evil.
Also, as someone who spent most of her life working in the health and medical field, I am disappointed that this book barely touches on the need to lose weight to remain healthy, as opposed to losing weight to be better accepted by the image-conscious people around us.
Anyway, I hope I haven't made this book come off like some horrible book because it isn't. I do find this book funny, with many chuckles to be had from the pages, and I really enjoy following Lucy and Theo fall in love, even if I wish that Ms Donovan hasn't tried so hard to ram the whole politically correct beauty-is-deeper message down my throat when this message doesn't hold water in the premise of her story. My conclusion about this book is simple: He Loves Lucy is a very entertaining romantic fantasy to lose myself into, provided that I overlook the author's constant insistence that this story is more politically-correct and fatty-friendly than it actually is.
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