Pan, £6.99, ISBN 0-330-41887-4
Contemporary Romance, 2004
If the related book The Guy Next Door (The Boy Next Door if you have the US edition) is a story told via email, Boy Meets Girl sees Ms Cabot adding memos, instant messenger transcripts, bouquet cards, scribbled pieces of paper, and even shopping receipts in addition to email to tell the story of the dysfunctional Hertzog family and the office politics of The New York Journal Human Resources Department. If you find The Guy Next Door too gimmicky for your liking, staying away from this one may be a sensible idea.
Personally I have no problems with the way Ms Cabot chooses to tell her story. In fact, I enjoy this lighthearted, often laugh-out-loud comedic romp, although there are too many times when the author mistakes precious behavior for comedy. The heroine Kathleen MacKenzie, however, is one of the most passive and whiniest nitwit heroines I’ve ever come across, even when I take into consideration that chick-lit heroines are supposed to be self-absorbed. She doesn’t do anything in this story at all other than to throw pity parties. While this story is fun, the fun is everywhere except where Kate is concerned.
Kate is the Personnel Representative in The New York Journal for only a short while when she realizes that the hardest thing she has to do is to fire the 64-year old Ida Lopez, the chef that prepares desserts and pastry for the staff’s lunchtime pleasure. Ida is involved with a personal squabble with the company lawyer Stuart Hertzog. Stuart has just proposed to Amy Jenkins, the Director of Human Resources and Kate’s superior, and he manages to persuade Amy to fire Ida. Kate, of course, has to be the one to do the actual firing. When Ida sues The New York Journal for her dismissal, Stuart’s brother Mitch is roped in to represent the company. Sparks fly between Mitch and Kate, until Mitch, in his overzealous and misguided idealism, almost ruins the case for them until Stuart and Amy recoup and pin the blame on Kate. Kate is fired, and Mitch vows retribution while Kate spends the rest of the story crying and whining and getting drunk.
Along the way, the Hertzog clan’s dysfunctional internal squabbles are unraveled in all their Jerry Springer-esque glory. The absent father doesn’t care (although as usual Ms Cabot, like every other author of her kind, demonizes the mother while portraying this absent father as a not-so-bad-guy after all), the mother is a bigoted and racist bitch, and Stuart takes after the mother. The elder sister Stacy and the younger sister Janice band together with Mitch to oppose Mom and Stuart, especially over the fact that Janice has just come out of the closet and the Mom and Stuart coalition wants to send Janice to a deprogramming center.
To be honest, I really don’t like Mitch and Kate.
Kate, as I’ve mentioned earlier, makes passive behavior an artform. She has “more flakey than the dandruff on Meg Ryan’s hair during the Nora Ephron years” tattooed on her forehead: she lets her emotions override her common sense and she blabs about her recent break-up with her first and only boyfriend Dale to anyone who will listen, even if this person is Mitch and they are supposed to be conducting a pretrial hearing. She babbles, stammers, and when faced with pressures at the workplace, sends emails filled with too many exclamation marks to her friend Jen. I think she is supposed to be “cute”. Her proaction mode sees her wailing and whining about how unfair it is that life is giving her the lemons, often culminating ad nauseum with a dramatic “I want to die!!!” Don’t tempt me, Kate.
Her most dramatic stance in this book is to send a singularly petulant message to her lecturer in Kentucky telling him that he is wrong and there is no place in this world for idealistic dumbasses like her. While Mitch and Jen and everyone in Kate’s old workplace are working together to retrieve evidence that will clear Kate’s name, what is Kate doing? Ignoring Mitch’s phone calls while secretly sighing over the flowers he sends her, getting drunk, or sending whiny emails to Jen, all more often than not ending with the ever-classic “I want to die!!!” Seriously, Kate, just do me a favor and die already. In one of the last few pages of the story, she wonders what she ever did to deserve Mitch. Tell me about it, I’m still wondering. Apart from a glib sentence in her email to Janice that helps the teenage girl find her happy ending, Kate does absolutely nothing in this story to deserve her happy ending.
Not that the author is blind to Kate’s faults. Every other character in this book remarks on how Kate is a perpetual damsel-in-distress needing someone like Mitch to organize her life for her. Heck, Stacy even brings up that Kate is very easy – despite Kate’s long-drawn attempts at avoiding Mitch, he doesn’t have to do much to get into her pants once he’s had her cornered. So Kate is not a result of a horrible accident – Ms Cabot deliberately wrote her that way and it’s up to the reader to gauge just how much of Kate’s nonsense that the reader is willing to tolerate.
Remember those irritating rich little boys pretending to be left-wing activists in college? Maybe you have come across those insincere little bastards with their Gucci loafers and Starbucks coffee cups talking about how materialistic the world is and how it sucks that they are so rich when they just want to be, like, dude, toke-smoking hippies that are free, hey-ya kumbayah whatever-ey! Meet Mitch. He’s supposed to be this affirmative action lawyer drafted from his public counsel job onto his absent father’s firm when the old man asks him to, so he spends the whole time moaning about how it sucks that the world is so materialistic. Along the while, he fishes out his credit card to buy tiger prawns to make Kate yummy dinner in his luxurious apartment. Maybe, being the liberal leftie that he is, he will remember to donate his used loafers to the Salvation Army after he’s gotten Kate (who, by the way, with her vacant state of mind, is very, very easy). Seriously, it is hard to respect a whiny so-called leftie that allows himself to keep working at a job he claims is against his beliefs. At least his sister Janice, sorry, “Sean”, has the excuse of being nineteen. Mitch is too old to rebel for the sake of rebelling (and avoid getting a real job that comes with real responsibilities). Still, at the end of the book he quits his position at the family firm to go back to his old job, but his getting there is a bumpy ride.
Still, Mitch is a charming rascal. And he is doing good by helping the crackwhores and the downtrodden, even if he’s somewhat insincere about his motives at helping them. He doesn’t hesitate to work overtime to clear Kate’s name once he realizes just how much his own stupidity has caused Kate to lose her job, and he really has to be commended on that. Since Kate needs a babysitter as much as a boyfriend, she can do worse than Mitch. At the very least, should they end up discovering how awful it is to be truly free from material assets, they will at least share solace in the belief that everything is everybody else’s fault, the world is against them, and as Kate would say, “I want to die!!!”
Nonetheless, despite me thinking that the Sad Gen-X Whiner couple needs a reality bitchslap fast, there are plenty to enjoy about Boy Meets Girl. Personally, I find the whole use of correspondences to tell the story a hoot and provides amusing insights into the characters’ psyche. Readers of The Guy Next Door will recognize the man eater Dolly Vargas, Stacy and Jason and their children, and the busybody guys at the IT department of The New York Journal, and they, especially Stacy and Dolly, are in fine bitchy mode here, although Ms Cabot’s bitchy mode style of writing is still very tame compared to what her UK counterparts can and will do. Kate’s friend Jen is the perfect sassy best friend from central casting, but she steals the show whenever she’s (figuratively speaking) in the same scene as the dull cow Kate. Then there is Dale. He tries to win Kate back by writing lovelorn songs like Chicken a la Kate to her. How can I resist a song like Y Won’t U B With Me, Kate?
Oh Kate, Y can’t it B
like it used to B
Because this world ain’t meant for lovers
No, this world ain’t meant for U and me
Because the bureaucrats in Washington, they’ll set off the bombs, so what’s the point, Kate?
We’re all just going to die, anyway
So Kate, Y won’t U B with me?
This book is funny. It says a lot for Ms Cabot’s comedic talent that while I don’t like Kate at all and I warm up to Mitch only late in the story, I have a really great time nonetheless with Boy Meets Girl. This book is a welcome source of laughter in between suffering through cheerlessly dry romance novels, so it’s probably not so bad after all. Oh, and in case you are wondering whether your kids will be scarred for life if they read this book behind your back, there are strong language, blatant (but funny) stereotypes of lefties and righties, gay people, and humorous sexual situations in this story. There is no love scenes though, Kate and Mitch’s spending the night is merely mentioned in passing in emails and online chats (thank goodness).
One last thing though before I stop. Ms Cabot and the copyeditors, please take note. It is Kuala Lumpur, not Kuala Lampur. Seeing this spelling error crop up so many times in this book is downright irritating because seriously, it is not as if Kuala Lumpur is so obscure that one can’t spend five seconds to look up the correct spelling using Google or something.