Warner Forever, $6.50, ISBN 0-06-050947-3
Contemporary Romance, 2005
I must give Candy Halliday some props. She’s not that young, heh, but she has a fresh, young, and contemporary voice that allows Dream Guy, a romantic comedy with an urban chick-lit slant, to come off as hip and funky. Some grandmas try their hands at contemporary romances only to come off like wartime relics pretending to know what a condom is, but Ms Halliday has her characters using four-lettered words (judiciously, of course) and trading naughty one-liners like nobody’s business.
Having said that, her big-time debut has one obvious flaw: Ms Halliday is so intent on bringing on the funny that her main characters – the ones who are supposed to be in love – share too few scenes together, must less talk, to the point that the happy ending comes out of the blue to catch me off-guard. There is no misunderstandings in this story, just to make that clear, it’s just that the characters don’t interact with each other enough in the story. As a result, the romance is flatter than flat.
Poor Annie Sue Long. At ten, she realized that she was a bastard but her mother consoled her by pointing out that if Annie wants her father’s last name hyphenated with her mother’s last name in her birth certificate, that could be done in no time and with no trouble. Since her father’s last name is Dick, she had to pass. She likes men but she always manage to end up with the wrong ones, including her boss Matt Abbington, Mr No Commitment. Today, her current boyfriend dumps her via a video that was recorded by his new girlfriend (after Annie has taken the trouble to prepare an expensive welcome-home romantic dinner). Tired of men, she hijacks Matt’s meeting when he forces her to take his place in it and introduces a new game for Paragon: Joe Video, a computer-simulated boyfriend for the modern women. Matt isn’t amused. He is definitely not amused when the man hired to give Joe Video a face and voice, Enrico Romero, sees Annie as his ticket to fame and fortune and makes a move on her.
This book is pretty much a pink handbag of stereotypes. Rico is the slimy Latin lover, his girlfriend is the veritable feisty Latina skank, Matt is the typical playboy hero… the usual. But for a while, the story is entertaining because the characters have fun baiting each other and trading one-liners. The gay best friend Collin steals every scene he is in although he is admittedly a cringe-inducing Her Flaming Best Nelly Friend stereotype. Annie has her share of typical good-girl tics but she isn’t so bad in the sense that she at least proves that she has a brain and doesn’t fly off the handle like chick-lit idiots tend to do sometimes.
Still, as fun as the book is, I find that it gives off this cynicism that is largely at odds with the whole romance and happy-ever-after concept. For example, the man who is gallant and treats his women like gold, Rico, turns out to be an oily creep with insincere motives. The women in this book insist that “realistic dream guy” is an oxymoron, fair enough, but Annie is holding out for Matt even when he is not giving her the respect she deserves, which makes the book come off as more cynical than it intends to be. Trust doesn’t seem to be very important in this book as the main characters finally find love after playing ridiculous games with the people they love. Also, the author has Annie changing for the better by embracing herself and taking control of her life – good for Annie! – but Ms Halliday also falls into the unfortunate pattern of making Claire, a career woman who is also sexually aggressive, a caricature of the Other Woman character who wants to steal Annie’s man from her. Apparently it is okay if a woman takes control of everything in her life but not her sexuality because only evil women do that.
All these mixed messages are due to the fact that the author gets so wrapped up in making her story more and more convoluted in the hope of making the readers laugh. When she does that, the characters spend more time doing silly things. Annie spends more time interacting with Collin and Rico and even Claire than Matt so towards the end of the book, romance seems to take a backseat to silly charades. When Annie decides that she loves Matt, that seems like a convenient plot development that comes up just to wrap the story up.
Ms Halliday has a zany way with humor but Dream Guy has more madcap silliness than substance, I’m afraid.