Breathing Room
by Susan Elizabeth Phillips, contemporary (2003)
Avon, $7.99, ISBN 0-06-103209-3

Susan Elizabeth Phillips not-so-middle name must be Overrated. I dare anyone to name me one Susan Elizabeth Phillips book that has a heroine who doesn't come off like a crackhouse version of a waifish Judy Garland archetype filled with archaic sexual contrivances and neuroses - go on, I challenge you. Breathing Room is no different. It's a badly written soapbox that sees the author more interested in spewing her philosophy and principles. Unfortunately, using crackpot characters to support one's point isn't exactly a good way to make converts out of readers.

The heroine Dr Isobel Favor is... how shall I say it? If you take Dr Laura Schlessinger and a heated frying pan, smack Dr Laura with the frying pan a few times, heat a burning chopstick, shove the chopstick up her nostrils, and perform homegrown lobotomy on the spot, you'll get Dr Isobel. At least Laura baby has the gumption to pose nude. Isobel should be so fricking lucky. Cheated by her accountant, dumped by her guy who calls her sexually inept, humiliated by the media, and now despised by her once-faithful fans, our heroine flees to Italy. She decides to have a one-night-stand with a gigolo named Dantes, shrieks even before the orgasm is close that she's a Harlot and Fallen Woman, and then flees like the ultra-annoying bunch of nerves that she is. Why can't those lovely Italians run her down and spare me my misery? Jeebus Shucks, if I'm licking my wounds in Italy, I'd damned well make sure when I leave, there are no more young hot Italian males walking properly when I'm done. To heck with "sex only in meaningful relationships" - not when this means one has to act like a complete brickhouse reject like Lobotomel here.

Our Dantes is actually Lorenzo Gage, everybody's favorite movie psycho - Christopher Walken must have gone to retirement. Of course, he finds that sticking his penis into a short-circuiting frigid queen is so fun, it makes him See the Light. Along the way, the both of them counsel spouses in marital troubles - hah, that's so rich - and other jolly fun that makes it very clear to me that people with free advice are often those who could use those advice themselves the most. I'm also bombarded with annoying soapbox moments about the author's opinion on marriage, divorce, pregnant sex, handcuffs, and oh, how can I forget? EMBRACE THE CHAOS! Susan Elizabeth Phillips has spoken, people!

The characters speak as if they are just one step away from starring in their own The Celestial Prophecy. The plot is disjointed and ridiculous. The characters, especially Lobotomel, are pure agony to follow because they aren't anything close to realistic characters, just bags of ticks and contrived neuroses for the author to tell us all to EMBRACE THE CHAOS. And it's okay for your lover to counsel your ex and your sister in matters about love and sex when she can barely have sex herself without desiccating from the effort. Or something.

You say Breathing Room, I say Toilet. Sorry, that is really mean, I know, but seriously, this book is bad even when compared to the author's most overrated, actually unreadable moments (It Had To Be You and Nobody's Baby But Mine - oh, those stupid, stupid heroines, but compared to Lobotomel, oh, those Rhodes scholars!). The archaic sexual norms and annoying in-your-face lectures about the author's own version of Happy Family Values are bad enough, but I really draw a line at Breathing Room.

When the author finally gets her female characters right, when the author writes a decent plot that doesn't feel like a patchwork of barren ideas and threadbare stereotypes given little pretty "1930s movies" humor, when the author doesn't preach values that come out of a 1920s Agony Aunt morality tale column, maybe a good book will really come my way and I'll join the Susan Elizabeth Phillips party like everyone else apparently is. She had a good book, by the way: Lady Be Good, but that's solely because of the hero. Which only drives home the awful truth: the heroes are okay, sometimes good, but the heroines should all be put down to sleep for the sake of mankind. Until then, oh well. So many books, so little time, et cetera.

Rating: 47

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