Pan, £6.99, ISBN 0-330-41189-6
Contemporary Romance, 2002
This book is published as The Boy Next Door in USA. I don’t know why, maybe Americans like their men young, And yes, Meggin Cabot and Meg Cabot are one and the same. This book is very funny, and I actually laugh out loud too many times that reading this book in public can be most embarrassing.
The Guy Next Door is actually a series of emails that, put together, tells the story of Melissa Fuller, gossip columnist in The New York Journal and John Trent, crime reporter in The New York Chronicle. They meet when Mel’s next door neighbor was beaten into a coma, and Mel has to take care of the cats and dogs while trying to contact the old lady’s only kin, Max Friedlander. Max would rather cavort with supermodel Vivica while waiting for Bitch Auntie to die and leave him her money, so he has his friend John step in to pretend to be Max. John and Mel fall in love, much to the delight or dismay of their friends, colleagues, and family members. The emails fly.
Ms Cabot’s email “voice” isn’t entirely sharp and witty like, say, Matt Beaumont’s, but her one-liners can really hurt. The secondary cast are just perfect, from the busybody but well-meaning friend Nadine to her guy Tony the chef to John’s brother Jason and Stacy, Jason’s wife to the boss and the crazy colorful socialite to… oh, everyone’s a class act when it comes to prime comedy. There’s also Mel’s mother, who sends snippets of wedding announcements and photos to Mel with alarming regularity and John’s Mim who is caustic and warm all at once.
But if there is a flaw in this story, it’s Mel. Mel “Slap Me Please, I’m So Precious… Oh Just Smack Me Stupid” Fuller, who is tardy, pert, self-absorbed, whiny, neurotic, and clueless to the point of being use-free. Of course she loves animals, of course she loves old people, and she doesn’t like men spending money on her because she’s cute and precious like that. This woman is useless and she’s loved for being useless. Call the Mog Ryan out of retirement, Ms Cabot’s writing a customized script for that monster.
John is alright, and it is so easy to picture Hugh Jackman as that guy. But it is the secondary cast who steal the show as well as the main billings. Nadine is fun, Dolly is hysterical, Vivica is hilarious, Jason and Stacy are a riot, although their kids scare me because they know how to use the word “therapy” when they are just in second grade. In fact, by the second half of the story, I don’t care whether Mel and John find love, eat their dog, or get run down by a bus, I just want those funny people to bring on the e’s.
And if I may say so, John shouldn’t believe Stacy – he will make one lousy novelist.
If you’re the kind of reader who just adore Meg Ryan and weep when she finally meets Tom “Triple-Chinned Milquetoast” Hanks in Sleepless in Seattle that you have watched 1,876,258,772 times with your cat in your apartment filled with precious Memory Lane figurines and matching baby booties, you will love this book so much you will read it again and again until the bindings fall apart. If not, hey, there’s no harm taking a look. I find it just too funny, and I guess that’s something.