The Last Chance Saloon
by Marian Keyes, contemporary (2000)
Penguin, 6.99, ISBN 0-140-27180-5

There's this shampoo comercial on TV once. A beautiful Naomi Campbell-esque model steps right up and sweeps her luxuriant and shiny dark hair and tells me, "I can never find men who will give me a second look. Until I use Brand Crap Shampoo (name altered to prevent unnecessary lawsuits). Now they can't keep their eyes off me!"

Some viewers may just look at themselves in the mirror and contemplate anorexia and full-blown liposuction and body-waxing right away. Me, I think my intelligence has just been insulted. "Men's standards aren't that high!" my husband confirmed that day. "It was never that high in the first place."

The Last Chance Saloon is just like that stupid ad and all those beauty magazines that preach insecurity and Donna Karan. Three friends, Tara, Katherine, and Fintan, two beautiful women and a gorgeous gay dude, live in London and spend their free time indulging their insecurities. Katherine is the main character here, and she spends the whole book dithering between Lorcan Larkin, a man who sleeps with her but comes and goes when he pleases, and Joe Roth, a sexy co-worker who isn't any better than Lorcan. Tara, the stupid one, has Thomas, a man she sleeps with even though she finds him a bore and a cheat and a... well, Mr Wrong (but she can't get any other man, so what is a woman to do, right?). Only Fintan is happily in love.

At first I like Katherine, a control-freak who insists that the remote control is all a gal can rely on. I even laugh at her funny wit. After all, I can take insecure heroines. Every woman can't be all too-confident, can she?

But soon, it becomes evident that insecurity is the plot here. The first three words in The Last Chance Saloon is prophetic - you're past 30, honey, you better grab on the first man you see while you can!

So there go Katherine and Tara, asserting their strength and independance in public, only to go home and wait by the phone for the call that will never arrive. By page 100 the story becomes yet another script for the Beauty Magazine Charter.

Ladies, look glamorous, wear those designer duds we advertize on page 43 to 63 and check out those cosmetics, will ya? And oh, you are strong and independent and smart, for you are Woman, but watch out girlfriend! You're 31 now! You ain't got a man? Go grab one! Quick! You can't be a woman without a man!

That's what TLCS is - a glossy, colorful, and garish piece of fluff. It's funny, yes, but it makes the reader laugh at the heroines. Despite the hilarious female-bonding and reaffirming scene at the end, the story ends up making pathetic doormatsy fools out of the very characters it claims to ennoble.

Oh, and almost all of those praises for this novel come from beauty magazines. I rest my case.

Rating: 50

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