by Jennifer Probst, contemporary (2012)
Pocket, $7.99, ISBN 978-1-4767-2531-4
Jennifer Probst's The Marriage Trap is everything that a bestselling kind of mediocrity should be. It's not awful, it's not good, it's just hopelessly mediocre. Everything about it is unimpressive and unmemorable, like having to stand in an elevator on a long trip up with only non-stop music from Clay Aiken piped in to decrease the tedium.
The idiot plot is a given, as this is a fake engagement story and it is very rare that such a premise can be pulled off in a contemporary setting without everyone involved looking like imbeciles and assholes, and Jennifer Probst isn't good enough to pull that off. Sure, there are moments when she lets me know that the plot is a bit daft, but she goes ahead and approaches the daftness anyway without any hint of self-awareness or self-effacing humor.
Michael Conte, whose last name means Count in Italian, as the author would remind me many times in this story, is one of those hot billionaire who doesn't seem to have to stay in an office, much less work. Maybe every time he unzips his pants in front of an urinal, hundred dollar bills shower from above all over him. So, he's rich, he's surly, and he's a control freak, like every hero should be.
Now, his mother insists on making sure that he is married before his younger sisters can marry, and since one of those imbeciles want to marry, he has to pretend to be married first. This is one of those cruel family rules used as plot devices by authors who dream of getting that badge that says "Proud Harlequin Presents Author" to wear with their uniform, and here, the benevolent loving mother will disown any daughter who dares to elope before Michael gets married. And because the sister in question just cannot lose everything, Michael decides to ask photographer of saucy pictures, Maggie Ryan, to be his fake fiancée.
Maggie is set up to be a heroine who has been around the block a bit. Naturally, this is just a cliché - Maggie turns out to be the standard "not a complete innocent", whose supposed sexual experience and cynicism is a lazy way to show that she is damaged inside and has unhealthy perceptions of relationships. After all, if a heroine isn't a complete innocent bumpkin, what else can she be but a victim of her sexuality? And what better way to get sexual healing than to fall in love with an utter control freak who is unhealthily obsessed with his own sisters' innocence?
Now, I may have made the plot seem like some campy comedy, but actually, this is an overwritten bore of a read. The characters are one-dimensional stereotypes that bring nothing new to the table. Everything is as it is on the label - Michael and Maggie do and say exactly what I'd expect them to.
Worse, Ms Probst seems to lack any self awareness when it comes to her characters. At one point, Michael without any hint of irony accuses Maggie of being a control freak. Ms Probst also has Michael continuously talking about how sexual and exciting Maggie is to him, but Maggie's actual behavior is that of a stereotypical neurotic heroine with plenty of hang-ups. Maggie is as sexual as a broken toaster in this story.
The writing doesn't make this story any more enjoyable. Because the story is so boring and the characters are often said to be better, smarter, and sexier than they are actually shown to be, I start to notice plenty of unattractive "quirks" in the narrative. The author often tries too hard to use dramatic turns of phrases in her story, often in a manner that seems more awkward than anything else. Here's a typical example of the kind of turgid writing that litters this story.
The sun looked pissed off.
Michael Conte stood outside by the waterfront property and watched the perfect disc struggle to top the mountain peaks. A fiery mingling of burnt orange and scarlet red rose, emanating sparks of fury, killing the remaining dark. He watched the king of the morning proudly celebrate the temporary win and for a moment wondered if he'd ever feel like that again.
I wish I can say that Michael was experiencing a near-death experience after nearly overdosing on drugs or something, but no, all that exploding sparks and orange burst are just symptoms of Ms Probst's personal struggle to be seen as the twenty-first century reincarnation of Ernest Hemingway. I doubt that fellow had ever found the ingenuity to put words together in such an elegant manner as Ms Probst, who demonstrates what a manly and sexy hero Michael is using phrases such as "he plundered and commanded in complete thrusts".
The Marriage Trap, ladies and gentlemen.
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