HCI, $13.95, ISBN 978-0-7573-1533-6
Contemporary Romance, 2010
Judith Arnold’s Meet Me in Manhattan is based on the real life romance of Ted Skala and Erika Fredell. A quick search on Google reveals that these two really enjoy telling their love story to anyone who will listen – New York Times and MSN, for example. Perhaps unsurprisingly, they allow their love story to become one of the three stories that will kick off HCI Books’s True Vows line. If you haven’t heard, True Vows is a series of romantic stories based on real life couples, from the very people who bring you those Chicken Soup books.
The thing is, the love story here isn’t particularly interesting. Maybe it’s because Mr Skala and Ms Fredell will approve the final product and therefore the author has to be as inoffensive as possible, but whatever the reason is, this book reads more like a halfhearted narrative than a story brimming with humor that I’ve come to expect from Ms Arnold.
The first thing I am hit in the head with is how absolutely lovely and amazing our couple is. He’s tall, handsome, and muscular. In school, he’s a wrestler with artistic sensibilities. She’s a gorgeous half-Latina who nonetheless lives the blessed life of a stereotypical heroine: she befriends ladies who are not popular, she only goes out with tame and boring guys, and oh yes, she is intelligent. She also rides horses for fun. They met sixteen years ago, with both of them immediately assuming that the other person is surely not interested in them. Eventually they discover how much they adore each other – his girlfriend at that time, Kate, eases out of the picture before they responsibly have safe sex that nonetheless is so amazing that Celine Dion would be drafted to sing the theme song during that scene in the inevitable movie that will be based on this love story.
And then, she has to go to college while he moves on to demonstrate that real men don’t need college degrees to become a successful businessman. They meet again to catch up on old times, they talk, and when she leaves the restaurant, it rains and she starts crying because oh, they really love each other so much. Ted eases his girlfriend Marissa out of the picture and then he and Erika get married, live happily ever after, and sell me their love story for $13.95.
Where is the conflict in this story? Love is beautiful, love is always in the air, but love without conflict makes a terribly dull story to read. The characters are so perfect, so instantaneously in love, and so aware of the other person’s perfection that the awesomeness of the other person is all they think, talk, and dream about. Meet Me in Manhattan is like a transcript of the first meeting of the Ted and Erika Mutual Admiration and Navel-Gazing Society.
Also, the story often jumps from third person narration to second person narration, where all of a sudden the author starts yammering as if she were Ted’s imaginary Obi-Wan Kenobi friend narrating Ted’s feelings for him. This technique is cheesy, I find, and the story is already cheesy enough with various Hallmark-type affectations (such as the scene where it just happens to rain as Erika begins to sob after meeting Ted when they are grown-ups). Then again, maybe all that cheese is what this book aims to deliver, I don’t know.
One thing has me curious, though. I know that Ms Arnold worked closely with Ted and Erika in creating this story. But I can only wonder how Ms Arnold comes up with gems like this:
Her half-Latina blood enabled her to tan easily, but her breasts were pale, the color of the moon and just as round. He reached up to caress them and she closed her eyes and sighed. And gave her hips a little hitch that took his arousal to an entirely new level.
Something tells me that the interview transcripts with the couple are more interesting than this book.
Speaking of beautiful breasts, I should warn you that you should not look at the photos of this couple – which are easily available online because they aren’t publicity-shy – because you will then realize that, er, reality may not be represented faithfully here. The author describes them to be something like the second coming of Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie. You may look at those photos, scratch your head, and start laughing at how much Ms Arnold has exaggerated the physical perfection of her characters.
Oh, and if you are in any way acquainted with poor Marissa and Kate, please don’t let them read this book. While there is no evidence here that Ted cheated on them with Erika, anyone reading this book now knows that these women are ditched by Ted for the sin of not being Erika. While time heals all wounds and perhaps Kate won’t take a teenage coupling seriously, I can only imagine her reaction when her hairdresser tells her that the guy she used to date as a teenager ditched her for a woman with round moon-shaped pale breasts with whom he made love with repeatedly, constantly, and amazingly.
And poor Marissa! She spent three years with Ted, waiting for him to marry her and start a family with her – Ted even remarks in this story that she feels her biological clock ticking – and then he dumped her and married Erika shortly after. And now, everyone who has read this book, be it her dentist, her best friend, or that catty colleague she can’t stand, will know that she is judged unworthy of Ted’s precious time and sperm because she’s not a half-Latina babe with pale round breasts. It’s true what they say – when a man tells you that he’s not ready to settle down, what he is really saying is that he’s not ready to settle down with you.
I know it is touching and beautiful that Awesome Handsome Muscular Amazing Ted and Awesome Beautiful Pale-Breasted Half-Latina Babe Erika finally get back together and get married, but a part of me will always wonder whether it is kinder to spare Marissa the public humiliation of seeing this book published and having strangers read about how she was cast aside because her boyfriend saw his ex-girlfriend one evening when she was not around and decided that the ex-girlfriend was worthy of the very things – stability, commitment, and family – that he denied her in the three years they were together.
Why am I thinking so much about the unfortunate implications of this book? That’s because the story is boring. The characters are Mary Sue and Marty Stu made life, their romance is dull and uninteresting, and there is a general overwhelming sense of self-entitlement going on here – Ted and Erika are perfect for each other so they will have each other, everyone else in the way be damned – so much so that when these characters do behave in ways that aren’t as noble as the author tries to pretend they are, the negatives become accentuated as a result.
I hope the other two books that launch this series aren’t as dreary and inappropriately self-satisfied as this one. I’d find out soon enough, so stay tuned.