Thursday, December 02, 2010

"Finding Perfect," by Susan Mallery

The Chick: Pia O'Brian. She thought she was inheriting her dead best friend's cat - so when she's bequeathed three frozen embryos instead, I think it's safe to say she's a little shocked.
The Rub: While her hometown of Fool's Gold has one hell of a support network, she's still a single woman with a career and no family - how's she supposed to be a mother to three kids?
Dream Casting: Rachel McAdams.

The Dude: Raoul Moreno. Once a part of the foster care system, Raoul wants to spend his days of NFL retirement trying to make the world a better place, one person at a time - and Pia might just be that one person.
The Rub: After a terrible betrayal destroyed his first marriage, however, Raoul is only willing to help people so long as his heart stays uninvolved.
Dream Casting: Bobby Canavale.

The Plot:

Dead Friend: Here! Have these three frozen kids!

Pia: WTF??

The Town of Fool's Gold: You'll be a great mom!

Pia: Are you insane?

Raoul: Even though we barely know each other, let me be your pregnancy buddy!

Pia: What is the matter with you?

Raoul: Better yet, let's get married!

Pia: This doesn't make any sense!

Raoul: Never mind, scratch that, I can't have my precious gooey marshmellow manheart getting squished! Peace out!

Fool's Gold: *grrrr*

Raoul: Eep, never mind!


Raoul: Now that I love you, let's get married for reals and have these babies!

Pia: Whatever, fine. Fighting the crazy doesn't seem to work.

Raoul: HOORAY!

Romance Convention Checklist

3 Surprise! Frozen Kids

1 Frantically Ticking Biological Clock from Beyond the Grave

1 Town of Angry Women

1 Sad-Eyed Orphan

1 Evil Ex

1 Inconveniently Dead Best Friend

1 Picky Cat

The Word: If you've read my blog before, you might be surprised to find I'm reviewing Susan Mallery again.

Reason the First: she has the dubious distinction of being one of only two authors to receive an F review on my blog (the other being Fern Michaels).

Reason the Second: I hated pretty hardcore on the idea of the final novel in her new Fool's Gold trilogy, Finding Perfect.

I know I shouldn't judge a romance by the synopsis alone - after all, one of my favourite romance novels of all time is about a duke who cheats on his wife with a virgin hooker and then hires her to babysit his daughter because he feels bad.

But I hated the premise of Finding Perfect SO bad. Our heroine, Pia, thinks she's inheriting a cat after her best friend Crystal dies of cancer. Pia's not good on the whole nurturing deal, but she's made peace with sharing her one-room apartment with a persnickity feline. Instead, she's horrified to discover Crystal left her the frozen embryos she made with her late husband Keith before he was shipped off to Iraq. In a nutshell, the idea of a woman guilt-tripping her three frozen brats onto her single, family-less, career-oriented best friend who was intentionally kept uninformed of this decision made me want to raise her from the grave so that I could punch her in the face.

The absolute wrongness of Crystal's actions kept me from recognizing the real point of this book until the moment I actually started reading it: this novel isn't about Crystal. She's dead. She never appears in the book and, to be honest, we're not told a whole lot about her except the requisite "bestest, kindest, sweetest girl in the world" claptrap. We're never treated to a real description of her or an explanation as to why she left her kids with Pia.

Okay, yes, the novel does dish out a few saccharine servings of condescending, nonsensical "Crystal just sensed you would be the best mother for her babies" bullshit.

But this novel isn't about the fact that Crystal left her best friend three frozen embryos without telling her. This novel is about the fact that Pia chooses to step up and have the babies, despite the fact that, not a week previously, the idea of taking care of an animal that poops in a sandbox gave her a severe case of the commitment-fear-sweats. Pia is scared shitless of the prospect of being a mother, but she doesn't feel right about giving the kids away or letting them, um, go bad.

This aspect of her character is what attracts our novel's hero, Raoul Moreno, whom Mallery fans may remember as the foster kid with sexy potential from Sweet Spot. Now a retired NFL champ, he moved to the town of Fool's Gold to experience smalltown life as well as give back to the community with an educational day camp for underprivileged kids.

Raoul, praise Jeebus, is a man who walked away from a horrific betrayal by his now ex-wife without an ingrained distrust of women. He greatly admires Pia's sacrifice, and realizes that she has no family to support her, so he volunteers to be her pregnancy buddy - as a way to get a taste of the family-and-white-picket-fence life without getting his heart involved.

So was this novel terrible? No - in fact, some parts of this novel were downright heart-tugging. I felt for Pia - I really did. Regardless of her other faults, Susan Mallery is quite good at writing empathetic female protagonists. Pia is extremely insecure - she obsesses over being rejected by a cat for much of the novel - but her emotional journey towards motherhood is tense and tragic and evocatively described. It's not just about how much three Baby Bjorns are going to cost her, but her acceptance of the idea of kids, when she's supposed to accept them as "real," her worries about whether she's maternal enough, and the point where they stop being Crystal's and start being hers.

Was this novel fantastic? Let's not go that far, either. Finding Perfect has pretty good characterization, protagonist-wise, but the story, the setting, and supporting cast are flimsy, exaggerated, and even cartoonish. I understand the story is about Pia deciding to have Crystal's kids, but I never understood her decision to have all three of them at once - and right away. Crystal left her enough money to pay for three years of embryo-storage, but Pia gets implanted before she even has the sense to think about getting out of her one-bedroom apartment or arranging her finances.

As well, the novel's "villains," such as they are, are so one-note it's almost funny - like the foster parent who's only slightly suspicious until the point he suddenly tries to sell his kid to a pedophile for fifty grand. It's bizarre - Pia's personal journey is handled with such depth and delicacy, and yet other aspects of this novel are so unrealistically idealized or unnecessarily demonized. One particular part at the end, concerning the town's reaction to the hero's refusal to immediately adopt a child, no questions asked, made no sense to me and seemed unfair.

So, yes, Finding Perfect is a pretty mixed bag - but not nearly as terrible as I thought it would be. Susan Mallery may write some of the douchiest heroes around, but she's one of the best in regards to heroines. If you like well-developed heroines with deep-rooted flaws but lots of heart, and don't mind over-idealized and even cartoonish settings, than this book might be for you.


  1. Anonymous10:47 AM

    "One particular part at the end, concerning the town's reaction to the hero's refusal to immediately adopt a child, no questions asked, made no sense to me and seemed unfair."

    You want irrational, how about all the readers who hate Vanni from the "Virgin River" books because her husband brings home an unrelated baby -- when she just *had* a baby -- insisting they adopt it, even though the baby is perfectly adoptable and would have no trouble at all finding a good home. Not that there aren't plenty of good reasons to hate Vanni, but it pisses me off that people find that unsympathetic -- cause every woman should just be panting to take on another baby, right? -- willaful

  2. Anonymous10:48 AM

    Uh, left out the part where she doesn't want to do it, which is the whole point. :-) -- willaful

  3. I haven't read any Susan Mallery in a while, I'm not really sure why. The ones I have read of hers are enjoyable. But I think I'll give this one a pass. For those of us who have gone through IVF and had frozen embryos, well, it is just too much for me to read that there are 3 frozen embryos and they all survive the thawing process and then they are all implanted successfully (as if the doctor would implant all three at once anyway, multiple pregnancies being so much more risky) and then all three of them are carried to a healthy delivery. It's a fantasy. I get that romance novels most often are fantasies but it's not something I can stomach in this case - the idea that it can be so easy is offensive. And, wow, I just realised what a totally hot button that is for me. Who knew.
    Anyway, I think this book is not for me - I just can't do the magical IVF story.

    Thx for the review, I could have stepped on my own personal landmine otherwise! :)

  4. Willaful --> Yikes. Does this mean I shouldn't read the Virgin River books or is this just a tiny flaw in a bigger series?

    Kaetrin --> Okay, without spoiling the novel too much - to the novel's credit, the pregnancy doesn't go completely smoothly. Even more AMAZINGLY, we don't get a baby epilogue despite having a pregnant heroine. So no issues on that score.

  5. Anonymous11:48 PM

    "Does this mean I shouldn't read the Virgin River books or is this just a tiny flaw in a bigger series?"

    Mmmmm... I have a lot of other issues with them. She reminds me a lot of Diana Palmer in writing style, except her particular brand of WTF goes in a different, less conservative direction. I would recommend the second of the series, which has an unusual hero I think you would enjoy. -- willaful

  6. Anonymous10:19 AM

    Kaetrin - from what I've seen on GoodReads, Finding Perfect is pretty damned offensive to anyone who's had personal experience with IVF. I hated it less than I expected to, because I thought Mallory got some of the emotion truths of the situation right. -- willaful