Berkley, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-425-22193-8
Contemporary Romance, 2008
How to Knit a Wild Bikini is a contemporary romance but it bears so little resemblance to present day that perhaps you are better off imagining that this is an urban fantasy romance set in a place where the vampires, werewolves, and whatever have been wiped out by a plague, with this plague leaving the humans all feeble-minded and dumb.
Nikki Carmichael is a chef who is plagued by a bad leg, so when she’s not moping about how surgery is never the answer to her solution, she decides to resign from her chef job. Naturally this leads to plenty of whining about how she now has no money to maintain the lifestyle that she is used to. I’d personally recommend an amputation and a permanent gag in this situation, but our valiant heroine instead decides to accept a job offer from Jay Buchanan, a hot-shot writer for a magazine that I suspect is targeted at fat, unmarried, unhygienic, and chauvinist virgin men who like to pretend that they have a chance of scoring with the babes in Maxim. He at first insists on sending her away because he’s given up women for the year and he’s dismayed that Nikki is not the butch lesbian like he expects all female chefs to be. But when the woman he slept with shows up and acts (in his opinion) in a most clingy manner, he decides to impulsively kiss Nikki and introduces her as his pretend-girlfriend in order to drive that clingy woman away. Nikki takes the opportunity to tell that woman that Nikki is Jay’s chef as well, thus making it very hard for Jay to send her away without answering some awkward questions. (Why Jay can’t say that he dumped her the way he dumped everyone else, I have no idea.) She also decides to pretend to be a lesbian to keep her job. Thus, the charade begins.
And on and on the story goes, playing out a tableau that involves fake lesbianism, antiquated gender stereotypes, and tragic stupid behavior. Jay’s offensive attitude towards women is shrugged off in a “Ha, well, boys will be boys!” manner. He’s so ridiculous that he’s not even a “man’s man” as much as he’s Johnny Bravo passed off as the Marlboro Man gone metrosexual. Nikki is just pathetic as the author puts her in a contrived position of weakness so that Nikki will continue to let herself be the star in this comedy of sexual harassment passed off as humorous romantic courtship. Then again, Nikki has problems separating Jay the potential employer from Jay the potential future husband pretty much from the moment she contemplates working for him at page 7, before she has even met the man: she has to remind herself that Jay will never be the man she is looking for in her life. Wait, she’s looking for a job… and she has to work at trying not to consider any man she encounters in the process as a potential mate? Shouldn’t she get that leg of hers amputated first so that I can take that sawed-off foot of hers and beat some perspective into her head with it?
Later in the story, the author decides to add some depths to her irritating cartoon characters. Alas, Ms Ridgway believes that perfunctorily plugging in all the mental traumas she has read about during her Catherine Anderson marathon is the way to go. Rape, abortion, suicide, and more are plugged into the huge gaping holes in the characters’ personality so that the cartoon characters are upgraded to become one-dimensional suicidal, depressed, and miserable stupid cartoon characters.
An odd thing that I find here is the secondary characters are so much better portrayed than the main characters. The so-called clingy woman that Jay is trying to avoid ends up being more dignified and less ridiculous than Nikki, for example. Perhaps the author has confused “stupid” with “funny”?
This is one story that I find very hard to imagine taking place in the real world because of the so many unrealistic contrivances that go into setting up the story. The heroine quitting her job before finding alternatives while knowing that she has an expensive lifestyle to maintain? That is dumb, but that is nothing compared to how Ms Ridgway forces Nikki to keep playing Jay’s ridiculous game when any sane woman would have kicked him in the balls and slapped him with a lawsuit. Perhaps you can throw the “But this is fantasy, not real, so screw the realism argument!” counter-argument at me, but I still believe that a contemporary romance should have some basis in reality. This one is not even a little realistic, it’s just a bunch of Harlequin Blaze clichés tossed nilly-willy into this overcooked mess with added bonus of traumas and angst substituting any actual effort at giving these characters depths.
Excruciatingly irritating to read from first page to last, How to Knit a Wild Bikini – whose title, incidentally, has very little to do with the story – is easily one of the worst books I have read in 2008.