by Donna Valentino, contemporary (1998)
Loveswept, $3.50, ISBN 0-553-44626-6
In Donna Valentino's First-Class Male, the hero Connor Hughes has lost his fiancée shortly before the big day and he struggles to change the perception of folks around him that he's an unreliable fellow who doesn't take his responsibilities seriously. Of course, botching up a potluck benefit dinner at the start of the story - by never getting around to ensure that the guests actually have something to eat, of all things - is not exactly a reassuring testament to his dependability, but there's far worse things than being an unreliable bloke. A whiny, judgmental, irrational, and bitter heroine who won't show up or die, for example.
Yes, Shelby Ferguson thinks that all men are bastards and her sister getting dumped at the altar is not going to change her opinion anytime soon. But compared to Connor, who has a far better case for being a whiny baby, she behaves in a disproportionate and hysterical manner throughout the story. The plot is simple: Connor decides to woo Shelby and every other secondary character in this story decides to help give him a push in a manner that screams "contrived plot device passed off as secondary characters". But Shelby just won't bite. Oh, she does like how that guy looks, and she's helpless to resist the sight of him without his shirt on, but that doesn't mean she won't go down fighting. And really, she is such a one-dimensional broken record that this story quickly becomes tedious to read.
She doesn't want love. But she's too weak to resist him! This only proves one thing, of course - all men are selfish bastards who only use women for one thing only. She thinks he's the worst ever, he proves her wrong, she refuses to eat her words and finds another excuse to judge him harshly on a purely superficial level (even as she moans that men are such superficial bastards who won't take the time to know the real her), and the whole cycle of Connor having to keep proving himself to her goes on and on. And then Shelby decides that she's in love with him after all. Does this mean that the story can now come to a happy ending? Of course not - falling in love only means that she must drive him away, because love doesn't last, and now she doesn't want to hurt him!
Shelby just goes on and on like this, which is bad enough. But what makes it really painful to follow this wretch is how the author also has Shelby's biological clock ticking madly, like a bomb that is about to explode in everyone's face. Therefore, Shelby doesn't just come off like a man-hating shrew, she also emanates a sense of desperation to have a baby that makes her a truly off-putting heroine. An unlikable judgmental hag who is also desperate to have a man knock her up and give her a baby that she believes will make her life complete... yucks.
I have no idea why Connor would want to debase himself for Shelby's affections for as long as he did in this story. He's rich and gorgeous, after all. It's not like Shelby is the only hot woman in town. First-Class Male may be a pleasant vicarious trip for folks who are still in the "all men are bastards who must pay and pay and pay and pay and pay..." phase that usually follows the breakup of a relationship, but I personally don't enjoy wallowing in such a dysfunctional romance.
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