by Rachel Gibson, contemporary (2006)
Avon, $6.99, ISBN 0-06-077317-0
Rachel Gibson's I'm In No Mood For Love is not an easy book to give a definitive verdict on. I like what the author is trying to do here and I like the intimacy of the setting. Unfortunately, the story pretty much muddles on and on slowly until it comes to a silly resolution that is slapped on more for closure for the sake of closure than anything else.
If you have read the previous related book Sex, Lies, And Online Dating, you may remember that Claresta "Clare" Wingate was the last to know that her boyfriend Lonny is gay and she discovered that fact with style when she found him being ridden by the handyman in her closet right before she was to attend her friend Lucy's wedding. Sometimes when God wants an idiot to realize the obvious, the anvil falls really hard, eh? Claire got blotto spectacularly at the end of the book, wailing Queen's Fat Bottomed Girls like she's on American Idol desperate to beat the votes coming in for a twitching grey-haired fat bastard beloved of hausfraus still in mourning over the death of Michael Bolton's career.
The problem is, whenever Clare gets drunk, she wakes up next to a strange guy. Normally a woman may feel a twinge of remorse or excitement depending on the circumstances and the identity of the guy she finds next to her, but Clare is a double whammo since she is a romance heroine and a romance author. One thing I will never understand is why romance authors will be the first to challenge the stereotypes of their career but when it comes to their writing, they will be the first to use humiliating stereotypes about their own job in their stories.
For example, if I say something like "All romance authors are desperate whackjobs that share the same dysfunctional sexual norms as their romance heroines, exorcising years of sexual repression via pornographic love scenes in their stories", my mailbox will probably explode in flames. But for some bizarre reason, romance authors seem to have no problems making such a statement via their romance author heroines in their stories. Authors will grimace when we snigger and say that romance novels are all about the sex, but then they have people in their romance stories going ga-ga over those books because these books have hot sex. No mention of romance and characterization that make a romance novel as good as any other kind of book? Maybe authors like Ms Gibson are saving all those big words for their next Romancing The Blog contribution, Why Do People Always Think That Romance Novels Are All About Sex? What Gives These Stupid People The Idea?
Clare is that kind of romance author. Her mother has drummed into her the virtues of being frigid and while Clare isn't that frigid, her love life sees her being a victim of broken heart. She is also that kind of heroine that goes into an affair saying that all she wants is an affair, realizes that she's in love after all, and then wails that the guy isn't playing fair because she's changing the rules and he doesn't like it. Clare keeps going on and on about how she is not that kind of girl, how she wants commitment from every guy she sets her heart on, to the point that I am sure the gleam in her eyes isn't excitement as much as it's the gleam of a borderline psychotic Bridezilla monster desperate for love, babies, and a husband to the point that she will certainly snap one of these days and take Beanie Babies hostage at the local bridal boutique.
Okay, so never mind that the heroine is a stereotype, and not a pleasant stereotype at that since she's supposed to be a romance reader as well as a romance author. Ms Gibson, on the other hand, has better not complain about unflattering portrayals about romance authors in the mainstream media if she's happy to perpetuate such stereotypes in her stories. Never mind that Clare who has won some RITA awards is a terrible author if the snippets of her historical romance in progress, Surrender To Love, is anything to go by. I mean, the Duke of Rathstone? Countess Dilberto? Ugh. Never mind Clare - shoo, shoo, get out, missy, before I introduce the sole of my shoe to your behind - the hero Sebastian Vaughan is a pretty interesting guy. But then again, isn't the hero nearly always more interesting than the heroine in every other romance novel?
Sebastian is a journalist/non-fiction author who has authored a bestselling book on Afghanistan, Fragmented: Twenty Years Of War In Afghanistan which sold like hotcakes after 9/11 although I suspect many of the readers of that book ended up disappointed that that book is actually supposed to be a well-balanced insight into why the terrorists are the way they are instead of a knee-jerk hate-fueling anti-Taliban scree, just like how you may be relieved if I say that Ms Gibson doesn't preach in this story and her stance on terrorism in this story is actually very fair. She acknowledges, for example, the terrorists aren't exclusively Middle-Eastern in origin but that's as far as she goes since she's definitely on the fence. Back to Sebastian, he's a very interesting hero in the sense that he does all this daring things in his career, sleeps with beautiful and exotic women, while harboring some minor blues about his estrangement from his father. He's a debonair hero and very much the player while remaining a nice guy as long as he's not coming on to Clare in an embarrassingly corny manner. I like how he tries to mend the relationship with his father. This aspect of the story is very real and reveals poignant depths in both men in a light-hearted manner.
Sebastian meets Clare due to timing. He's back to catch up with his father after the recent passing of his mother (who was divorced from his father) has him realizing that it's probably now or never that he and that man make peace with each other. At the same time, Clare is getting herself drunk. These two end up in a hotel room where she wakes up and thinks that they've had sex. Becase Sebastian seems to have this lamentable instinct to act like a ridiculous fratboy around a woman, he deliberately lets her believe that they've done the deed. It turns out that Clare hasn't done the deed with him so she's not sure that she should be relieved or disappointed.
Since Sebastian is easier than 1+1 and Clare is this hot woman, by right there shouldn't be any reason short of syphilis to prevent these two from hooking up and down and left and right. The only thing holding them back in the long run is Clare being wishy-washy. I find that I need to muster patience when it comes to dealing with Clare, especially because she's not real and therefore I can't put my hands around her neck and shake some sense into her. In fact, I find the "relationship" between Clare and Sebastian the dullest aspect of the story. I'm more interested in Sebastian dealing with his father and reading about Sebastian's adventures in his career. Maybe it's just me, but I find it hard to imagine that someone who doesn't put down roots like Sebastian can miraculously decide that he's in love and ready to settle down in a few pages in the last chapter for the happily ever after. That is the most unrealistic aspect about an otherwise realistic male that is Sebastian and that closure to satisfy Clare's desperate need to get married so that she won't be so stricken with guilt for having sex while her mother is frowning is disapproval that she ends up slashing her wrists feels like just that - a throwaway closure just to end the story with a obligatory happily ever after. Sebastian is too much larger-than-life so I find it hard to believe that he'll settle for Miss Stereotype Wah-Wah-Wah Mommy Don't Hate Me Please here instead of some daring female jewel thief or something.
On the other hand, I have to laugh when Clare describes in disgust her father as a serial philanderer who keeps thinking that he's hot stuff with the ladies because that man is who Sebastian is going to be in a few decades. How hilarious that Clare ends up marrying in a way her own father without her realizing it, just as she is so much her mother no matter how much she denies that.
On one hand, I like the hero when Ms Gibson is not trying too hard to make him come on to Clare like a horndog and I really wish he's in a different kind of story, one with exciting adventures and daring escapades. On the other hand, there's the heroine... I have a good time reading this book because the writing is clean but I find it very hard to believe that the romance in this story has any chance of lasting beyond a month or two. I don't even know why this book is called I'm In No Mood For Love because Clare isn't just in the mood for love, she's actually rabid about the whole love and commitment thing and acts like they are rocks of her life and she will dramatically die if she lets another man's penis gets closer than a mile to her without him vowing eternal love and devotion to her first.
There's nothing wrong with wanting love and commitment, of course, but Clare places so much emphasis on how wrong her love life is in this story and how worked up she gets just over the idea of having sex, she comes off a little not right in the head. She's too focused, too obsessed, on getting a ring on her finger while trying to grasp at straws as to how she can get laid by Sebastian without having to deal with her Catholic guilt that she fails to see the forest for the trees. Case in point? She makes a big case about making sure that her sex partner is clean from disease, she knows that Sebastian wags that thing whenever the mood hits him, and then she jumps into bed with him after believing him when he says that he is clean, without wanting to see written evidence or something like that. This kind of action makes Clare come off as dense and gullible. She takes all kinds of precautions on her part... and then believes what a man tells her because he says so? Hasn't she learned anything from her lamentably not-brief stint as Podunkville's Liza Minelli/Terry McMillan? It is not "unromantic" to be smart, really.
I'm in the mood for a story featuring a hero like Sebastian Vaughn. Just not this story.
This book at Amazon.com
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