by Rachelle Le Monnier, contemporary (2008)
eXcessica, $4.99, ISBN N/A
Show Me Heaven reads suspiciously like a vicarious therapy designed for readers looking for a momentary escape into a world where overweight plain girls can get the hot guy and trounce the skinny pretty (and naturally vile) other woman to the curb. This is because the story doesn't feel like a story but rather some kind of wish-fulfillment tale, thanks to some really exaggerated elements that make everything about it feels like a cartoon.
Poor Sara. She's not just plump and mousy, she also doesn't have much of a life outside of accompanying her Nan on her Tuesday night bingo games or having a drink at the nearby pub. As a result, perhaps it is to be expected that the dating agency she signed up with has little luck in finding her a man that will be even a little interested in her. Then again, judging from how much of a wet blanket she is in the first chapter of the story - gaping at the man like a brain-damaged goldfish, refusing to eat a lobster because she couldn't bear to think of it being boiled alive, and generally behaving like a perfectly dull date - I wonder if she's having little luck meeting guys because of her personality rather than her looks. If that is not enough, Ms Le Monnier also has to make Sara a clumsy klutz.
At work, her boss picks on her while a co-worker, the pretty but vile Vera, hates her and plots against her.
I have to sigh, I tell you. There are mousy women designed as placeholders for the reader in some kind of wish-fulfillment vicarious reading experience and then there are contrived characters with exaggerated issues. When Sara meets Matt, a nice man who treats her well, naturally she's afraid and suspicious of him, fearing that he will break her heart. I understand where she is coming from, but because the author has already turned Sara into a walking weirdo too ridiculous to be real, this turn of event feels suspiciously like an exercise to get the whole world to acknowledge that Sara is indeed wonderful and lovable. In other words, everything in this story is designed to eventually convince Sara and the reader that Sara is indeed very special. Here's your self-esteem, Sara, served up on a golden plate! I hope she chokes on it, that boring dull cow.
Now, I have nothing against wish-fulfillment stories. I personally believe that the romance genre won't be as successful as it is today were not for its subversive wish-fulfillment elements. Sure, critics of the genre use the whole wish-fulfillment aspect of the genre to portray the genre in a most negative light and therefore many readers would deny the existence of the wish-fulfillment aspect of the genre. One only has to look at the whole "plain/overweight gal gets the perfectly formed hunk after kicking the skinny bitch to the curb" plot prominent in the genre, however, to realize that denying the existence of that aspect of the genre is like insisting that the world is flat.
And yes, I like a well-done vicarious exercise in wish-fulfillment. But a well-done one, please - one that still feels plausible and is rooted to some degree in reality. Show Me Heaven, with its ridiculously exaggerated heroine and an entire plot that revolves around the propping up of this heroine's self-esteem, is way too obvious as a wish-fulfillment fantasy and as a result, a part of me feels embarrassed reading it. Am I supposed to be just like the heroine? Good lord, I hope not. I may not have the best body in this world and I certainly am not the most beautiful or graceful person, but I will simply kill myself if I am supposed to identify in any way with Sara the pathetic cartoon character. It will be nice if that the author take things easier the next time around and try not to load the entire psychiatry textbook onto the heroine as well as to write a story that isn't so obvious about its agenda.
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