Marshall Cavendish, RM19.90, ISBN 978-981-261-611-1
Contemporary Fiction, 2009
I had some doubts about Tara FT Sering’s Amazing Grace when I turned to page one and realized that it’s written in second person. Yes, the person doing the narrating is not “I” or “Grace Chua” but “you”. The last thing I want is to be cast as a chick-lit heroine because, let’s face it, most of them have barely enough brainpower to cross the street without getting mowed down by a short bus. Still, I found this book sold for cheap in a magazine store, and it was going to be a long train ride, so what the heck.
As chick-lit novels go, this one isn’t anything new as it boasts a small cast straight out of central casting. Our heroine, Grace, comes from money as her family runs a company that imports computer parts in Manila. She teaches young kids but she can still afford designer clothes and trips abroad for vacations what seems like every other week. In other words, she’s one of those spoiled and self-absorbed heroines whose sole preoccupation in life is self-gratification. Grace dreams of two things: becoming a world-famous illustrator of children’s books and having a wonderful married life with kids and all. At 27, she’s behind schedule when it comes to having that perfect hubby and those perfect kids so she’s right now figuring out how to get those accessories for her dream life ASAP.
In comes Mike Martinez. He’s a cute guy that meets all her requirements and she decides that she is in love with him eight days after their first date. Two years down the road, they are engaged. But Mike accepts a job transfer to Singapore right after he pops the question, and it isn’t long before he starts mentioning this woman, Kaela, in their long-distance correspondence. Kaela seems to go way back with Mike: she is in nearly all his Facebook photos. Worst of all, Kaela is a gorgeous blonde with legs that go on forever.
Grace decides to do what every jealous and suspicious modern woman will do: travels to Singapore and ropes in her sister and this sister’s room mate to begin Operation Stalk and Spy on the Errant Fiancé. But you know what they say about curiosity killing the cat. Will she like what she discovers about Mike?
The plot is actually pretty ridiculous, because the heroine is going through stupid lengths for an obviously unworthy guy. It’s not like there is any suspense as to whether Mike is a keeper: the foreshadowing is all there, every secondary character brings up how absurd the lengths Grace goes through are for this fellow, and the author wisely doesn’t even try to justify Grace’s actions as smart. Still, this story works because it often comes off as a gentle satire of the chick lit genre instead of a hammy and dumb effort to celebrate the most ridiculous tropes in the genre.
It also helps that the author has a brisk, humorous, and quirky style when it comes to the writing. Her timing is solid, and this story has a very amusing manic quality to it. Even the more absurd slapstick moments work well in the context of the story. Coupled with the satirical elements of the story, Amazing Grace ends up being a most entertaining read.
It’s not a very deep read, though. The characters, including Grace, are shallow stereotypes with very little to make them stand out in any way. There are also the occasional moments of padding when the author goes on a bewildering detour, having Grace visiting various places of attraction in Singapore and Hong Kong, doing nothing that is of importance to the plot. Maybe the tourism boards of those countries are giving the author a small commission for every tourist lured by this book to visit those places?
At any rate, Amazing Grace is a fun, if utterly superficial and forgettable, read. I guess this makes it the perfect type of book to fill the time during long and boring transits. Expecting anything more from this is basically setting one up for disappointment.