Gallery, $15.00, ISBN 978-1-4165-1331-5
Contemporary Romance, 2012
If you have followed this website for a while, you may know that I’m a fan of Lisa Cach. Sure, not every book of hers is a hit, but then again, which author can score a home run every time? Great Aunt Sophia’s Lessons for Bombshells is a horrible jumble, however, and I am never sure what exactly it wants to be.
This is basically a story of a self-proclaimed Plain Jane who gets a makeover to become all hot and sexy, and she decides to explore her power over men. Oh, this is a romance at the end of the day, so there is no too far-out skanky stuff. However, the story isn’t structured like a romance – it feels like some kind of hybrid of erotica and women’s fiction. Only, it’s never erotic to a degree enough to qualify as an erotica, and it doesn’t dare to wade too far out of safe waters to introduce some women’s fiction-ish twists and turns that would have improved the story. Hence, it’s just confused at the end of the day. Or is that confusing? Either word works in this context, come to think of it.
A problem arises right off the bat: the heroine Grace Cavanaugh. She seems like a bad stereotype of a Women’s Studies scholar: she has hyperbolic views of relationships that indicate that she has clearly never had any healthy relationships before (and sadly, that is indeed the case), and she is also, to be blunt, a pretty crappy person. She treats her friend – a lesbian who is in love with her – like crap, she judges people harshly from the get go (Declan O’Brien is tarred by her as a misogynist, et cetera right away) – she’s like a caricature of a Tumblr harpy. She is working on a thesis which is abouit – and don’t laugh please – how beautiful women are trapped by their appearance, to be miserable and neurotic. It gets better: Gracie tars all beautiful women – dropping names like Angelina Jolie and Scarlett Johansson – as people incapable of having healthy relationships. Yet, at the same time, our feminist heroine rips into women who use Botox and make-up as frivolous, shallow idiots. You know how people often joke about feminists as shrews who are just bitter that they can’t get laid? Gracie, alas, fits that unfortunate stereotype down to a tee.
After all, once she gets hot and realizes that men like her, she’s all about testing her wiles on men. On Declan, whom she’s denounced as morally repugnant, because she’s attracted to him. I tell you, this story has a really embarrassingly off idea of what feminism is about; the women here all tear into one another over the slightest of drama, they drop all their scruples just to get laid, and really, feminism here is basically a stand-in for “I can’t get any men, so beautiful women who get all the men must be skanks and evil as how else will I feel superior to them?” crybaby nonsense. Once Gracie realizes that she can get laid 24/7, who cares about anything else – she wants the peen and she wants it now.
The men (yes, there are two, to play up some love triangle intrigue that never really comes out well) are just there, coming off suspiciously like statements to underscore whatever weird woman-hating hypocritical twisted version of feminism that is at play here. Gracie is a sex-negative kind of feminist who gets twisted up in bitterness at the idea of beautiful women getting motor-boated by hot-bodied guys (since she’s not getting any, those women who are must be skanks and whores who use make-up and Botox), but when she’s now about to get some too, well, that’s okay if she manipulates and plays on men’s emotions to get the peen, because she is a good girl, so there.
The Great Aunt Sophia in question is a horrid old bat, who manipulates people just because, and I am not sure what the author wants to do with this wretch. For Sophia to work, she needs to be espousing intelligent things that, even if I don’t agree with them, make sense. The gender and sexual issues in this story, however, are banal and shallow, playing to vapid cringe-inducing gender stereotypes punctuated by strident Tumblr-style preaching about women and gay people. Conversations here never feel natural, as everything feels like an excuse for the author to go on a soapbox whenever the mood hits her, and Sophia’s manipulations end up coming off like a bully who keeps beating up idiot puppies like Gracie.
I think it goes without saying that I find Great Aunt Sophia’s Lessons for Bombshells to be a painfully joyless read. With histrionic characters and juvenile take on gender roles and dynamics, the whole thing reads like really bad Tumblr vomit.