Warner, £5.99, ISBN 0-7515-3111-1
Contemporary Fiction, 2001
Oh boy, another author tries her hard at another one of those “funny contemporary women’s fiction” that are really saturating the British pop lit market today. Serve Cool doesn’t even try to deviate from the formula, and it’s embarrassingly apparent. It’s all Helen Fielding’s fault, I tell you. She and her Bridget Jones character single-handedly compelled a endless parade of copycats to shamelessly hawk their rather uninteresting wares.
Not that this one isn’t funny. It is. It also tries hard to be funnier, and that’s where it falls flat on its face.
The heroine Jennifer Summers, like all heroines in these sort of pop “chick lit” books, first gets dumped by a jerk boyfriend. This is after she gets so high – and drunk – on his proposal that she does some embarrassing lap dancing stint in some club. To commiserate with her best friend Marilyn (Maz), she eats lots of muffins, not knowing that they contain some herbs they shouldn’t be ingesting. As a result, the next day she humiliates herself in her law office, gets sacked, and gets molested and then evicted from her apartment at the same day.
With the humiliation show-all now complete – wait, yes, I think I forget to mention the orange hair, anyway, with that, she decides to accept Maz’s offer to work as a barmaid at Maz’s rundown, popular middle-class bar, Byker’s Scrap Inn. She gets some soul-searching done with the help of some heavily-accented Geordie middle-class folks, and gets a boyfriend that will reinstate her into her first class existence by the epilogue. But I am assured that Jen never forgets the lessons she learned when she was in touch with her middle-class roots. Uhm, whatever. Me, just give me that credit card and I’ll be happy.
Jen’s humiliation is hilarious – especially the way she fell face-first into the lap of a shocked elderly male colleague. Likewise, when she and Maz attend a talk show (Maz’s dream is to be Ricki Lake, God help her), Jen gets mistaken as a guest and is forced to confess an alcoholic problem (it’s that or her hair being pulled off by a host-gone-bonkers) – that’s funny. Jen’s clueless daddy befriending old local Auld Vinny, much to his posh wife’s exasperation, is also funny. Maz’s setting up of Jen’s dates is hilarious.
But everything else is forced humor, served at a breakneck speed that leaves me more exhausted than amused. Did I mention the gay friend stereotype? He’s here. The slime ex makes one last reappearance for finality matters, and every other plot device from a zillion other books like this one pop up and say hi to me. I am not that amused.
But more significantly, the humor is at the expense of character development. Jen remains the same woman she is from page one to the last chapter, doing an unrealistic three-hundred-sixty degrees turnaround in personality in the epilogue to roar the token “I’m over him” thing. (Yeah right, I notice she says that only after she has another man to cling on to in her life. Pfffftttt!)
Still, for the laughs and one of the most eyebrow-rising excuse to perform blow, er, banana munching on man ever, Serve Cool is worth a peek.