Married For A Month
by Susan Mallery, contemporary (2001)
Pocket, $6.99, ISBN 0-7434-0596-X

At one point in this story, hero Jonathan Kirby declares, "This is like a 60s comedy!" You wish, Ms Mallery, oh you really wish.

Married In A Month is a romance story that is so in love with its concept that it does not realize that it has no legs to stand on. The plot is loony, the ensemble cast leaves no impact, and for a romance all about psychology, it is nothing but shallow pop psychology. This is one romance that believes itself to be soooo funny that it can't hear the stupefied audience's silence over its own deafening canned laughter.

Taylor McGuire is a shrink. She is also a single mom. She may know what a vibrator is, but she is also a clueless romance heroine. Her sole thesis, Compatibility As A Key To A Successful Marriage is apparently such a groundbreaking paper that it rocks the shrink world. What is this? A 1960s romance? I know some shrinks are out of touch with reality, but to have people shrieking and getting orgasms over the idea of something strange and new like compatibility... never mind.

So stunning is this novel concept of compatibility that Taylor is invited to a talk show. Oh, no, the author assures me, this is not a tacky grainy talk show where strippers talk about their love affairs with pot-bellied transvestites or something like that. This is a nice talk show. A talk show that will play legalized ho pimp for forty "fake married couples" - but more later. Still, it's a classy talk show, y'all hear that? This ain't Geraldo.

Where was I? Oh yeah. So stunning is this novel concept of compatibility that the talk show host has to drag in psychologist-superstar Jonathan Kirby. Jon here has become so popular in his own breakthrough thesis - sexual chemistry is the key to a good relationship. Wow! I never knew that! Silly me! Oh, everyone hear that? We must have lots of sex with the people we love! Let's toss this book aside and get naked! (Actually, that last one is very good advice if you ask me.)

Tell me the author isn't actually a high school girl discovering Psychology 101 for the first time.

These two spar on TV - or rather, Jon pushes all her buttons and Taylor, a Good Girl, seethes inside. Finally, they propose an experiment. Forty couples will go on a fake marriage, and after one month, they will validate one person's theory and debunk the other's. Winner couple gets a million. Shrink winner get credibility and vindication.

I wonder. As far as reality TV show concepts go, that fake marriage thing isn't bad. It's like Temptation Island for the self righteous who prefer to delude themselves that the forty couples are undergoing legalized boinkarama in the name of love. TV shows pimping for romance!

Next stop, Alpha Centauri. Please make sure you leave nothing behind in the rocketship before you disembark.

Oh, Taylor and Jon are ex-lovers. Yes, that baby is his. A shrink mother who does a secret baby thing. Now I know I'm reading a lousy, thought-free romance novel. If you try and figure out how this romance will turn out, you'll be right. Their romance is also characterized by a single repertoire: Jon acts condescendingly towards Taylor, and Taylor would seethe and protest wildly as if the world is ending.

There are some couples who get their story told too. Three couples - or is it four? I lost track, because after a while they all become interchangeable dull characters with boring love problems. It's like an afternoon mantinee of all the tricks this author has learned during her stint as a Silhouette/Harlequin author. Baby problem? Misunderstandings? Reunion? Secret admirer? Single mommyhood? Watch out, they are barreling towards the reader like a plunge towards certain death. Or an author exorcising all her pent-up inner demons.

I just knew it - all those years of sweating and toiling for that Harlequin/Silhouette sweatshop will cause post-war stress trauma.

For a story that is all about the psychology of romance, it rushes towards an inept conclusion ("Love is magic, weeeee!") that is all about shallow pop psychology and third-rate macaroni relationships forged under the glare of the TV camera. And look at how the couples of Temptation Island turned out.

All in all, Married For A Month has too little-developed characters (very well-developed clichés though) and too much deja vu. This is not a romance story, it's an author going berserk with the clichés and trying too hard to be cute, and boy, it is not a pretty picture at all. Not pretty, uh-uh.

Rating: 58

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