Perfect Match
by Hailey North, contemporary (2000)
Avon, $5.99, ISBN 0-380-81306-8

Hailey North's third Avon contemporary (with some magic touch) has a magician finding love with a ditz, a parrot, and a romance between a stuffy banker and a... computer whiz. It can be a screwball comedy of love conquering science and intelligence, but it takes a wrong turn somewhere around page three and ends up a testament that schmaltz and cutesy mawkishness can overcome all rationale.

Let's put it this way: if a heroine - who insists on helping a dead old woman by protecting the woman's parrot Buster from her scavengers of ungrateful (read: smarter than this heroine) relatives - who would rather perform with the singing, talking too-smart parrot in Jackson Square (rather than to ask her friend/daddy/anyone to wire her some money) makes you go "Hee-hee! Cute!", this book will meet your romantic quotient perfectly. This is the same woman who takes time off from completing her dissertation in the name of such weird, twisted notion of charity and heroism.

Me, I would rather join Siegfried and Roy if Buster is that talented, but hey, it takes all kinds to make the world turn, I guess.

While acting all cute and forlorn in her ersatz Grace Kelly impersonation, Lauren Stevens meet magician Alistair who takes pity on her and lets her stay at his place. These two one-dimensional people see the fireworks going off in each other's eyes and heard the resonating ker-pow in their libido.

But hey, since there has to be a conflict, we have the typical Don't trust emotions and I'm too ditzy to have sex (okay, her excuse is that she doesn't have time, heart, etc for relationships) thing.

Alistair's brother Oliver is a banker, who tries to pretend that he isn't stuffy by acting "non-conformational" (if you look like a GQ male model, Oli, you will never be a rebel - pucker up and smell the Calvin Klein aftershave of yuppie-dom, buster). He meets computer and data woman Barbara Warren who then isn't sure whether a woman of her scientific background could do the nasty with such a "rebel". Worse, Lauren has it in her head that maybe she should encourage Oliver's suit.

Mrs Merlin, the typical I am more than you think, and I'm also a meddling matchmaker woman tries to liven things up, but it must be hard for her because the younger cast just wouldn't get any depth. Lauren is cute, Barbara is frigid, Oliver is stuffy, Alistair is supposedly guilt and angst-ridden (he goes against his daddy's wishes, forgoing banking for magicking) but is actually stuffy too, and everyone else remains that way throughout. They act in sometimes contradictory manner - more to plot accordance than in character - and after yet another wimpy I'm not worthy, I'm too kooky, and when can I be a martyr again act from Lauren, I begin to tune out.

Apart from the superficial characters, the humor is also awkward. To me, the humor seems forced, the repartees never taking off, and the relationship development never compelling. How could it be, when the heroines are so obviously besotted from get go? Worse, these heroines are always adhering to some misguided code of behavior of No initiative, no action, no impulse, no personality that they never become any match for their bland heroes. The humor most of the time consists of the hero saying something inane like, "Oh, so you sleep in strange bedrooms?" and the heroine either acting in stunned outrage or replying in something that translates to just "Hee-hee". Not exactly my type of ha-ha's.

Okay, least I start to sound like a miserable, no-humor harpy, I must also be fair and add that Alistair isn't that bad. He's boring, but he at least has the benefit of being cast as a magician. Therefore he at least performed some interesting things in this novel, unlike poor Oliver who just have to act stuffy and typical. And also, there are moments when things quiet down and Lauren tries to be human, but whenever I'm close to being reeled in, she remembers the Kooky Rule and starts acting waif-like or frigid (depending on which point of the novel she is in).

Perfect Match, I'm afraid, has broken two big rules in my book. It has no compelling characters and the story runs out of steam soon after Chapter One. It's a pity, because it so obviously wanted to be so much more, but fumbles in the execution and ends up yet another so-so book. Maybe it shouldn't try so hard and go with the flow or something. Letting the people in the story be human - be themselves - for a start would be very nice indeed.

Rating: 53

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