Thursday, December 23, 2010
What are you Reading Thursday - Michelle Douglas
When a dear friend of mine recently discovered that I hadn't read any of Jennifer Crusie's novels, she immediately set me a reading list and ordered me to get to it. Pronto. So I did. With her words, "Jenny Crusie is my favourite author in the world," ringing in my ears.
Now I should just mention at this point that many moons ago I did read Crusie's novella Sizzle – it came free with Cleo or Cosmo or some such magazine and I remember enjoying it. I've also quoted from one of Crusie's essays in my MPhil. So I'm not entirely ignorant of the phenomenon that is Jennifer Crusie.
Oh, and as an aside, I LOVE Crusie's essays. They are funny and witty and intelligent. Here's the link if you're interested: http://www.jennycrusie.com/for-writers/essays/. My favourite is "Glee and Sympathy." I've read it to my writers' group, to some of the people in my university workshop. I've read bits out to my husband, my sister... to anyone who'll listen really. It's one of those pieces that makes me chortle (and snort coffee/milk/cola out my nose).
I started with Crusie's category romances and thus far, in order, I've read: Getting Rid of Bradley, What The Lady Wants, Anyone But You, and Trust Me on This.
Getting Rid of Bradley is my favourite so far. Another dear friend said to me, "I never knew a category romance could be like that." And now I can see what she means. These are fast-paced and hilarious. Scenes unfold at the speed of light, a bit like they do in action movies. In fact, Crusie pays homage to Sam-Spade-type detective films in What The Lady Wants, while the favourite pastime of Nina and Alex in Anyone But You is... that's right, watching old movies. I'd lay money on the bet that Crusie is a classic film buff. Her dialogue is fast and snappy too – a bit like listening to Bogey and Bacall in The Big Sleep. The English Lit student in me loved watching the parallels and contrasts unfold.
Her characters seem more reality based than fantasy too – gloriously flawed and sometimes at the centre of action that can have them looking less than heroic. For instance, Zach the hero in Getting Rid of Bradley is brained by the heroine when she mistakes him for a mugger. Alec thinks Dennie is a con woman for much of Trust Me on This. Mae from What the Lady Wants thinks Mitch is perfect because "she's looking for dumb." There's also a less than heroic but wonderfully evocative description of Mitch – "his face looked like a catcher's mitt with a jaw." Crusie's surprising turns of phrase and her plot convolutions are a constant source of delight. Somehow she can keep control of a scene in which four people and three dogs are all talking, gesticulating and carrying on at once without one misstep and without losing the reader – amazing.
A film buff and a dog lover... plus she's a writer who is very funny, with lightning fast pace and dialogue to die for. I should love everything about Crusie's books, but...
None of these books have made my keeper list.
Yes, they're fun.
Yes, they're easy to read.
Unfortunately (for me at least) they're just as easy to put down again and not get back to.
Believe me, this is not the conclusion I wanted to come to. I want to love Jennifer Crusie as much as my dear friend. It's just... the emotional stakes in a Crusie story aren't very high. I don't feel that what the characters want matters all that much. Her world is safe, and while she often relies on a mystery plot, there is very little suspense in her books. Her characters seem to fall for each other pretty quickly and it is external elements that keep them apart. There's a line in Trust Me on This where the heroine wonders when the hero "had become more than great kisses and juvenile banter over dinner." Well, I have to admit... I was wondering too. I couldn't help feeling that humour was milked at the expense of the romantic development.
Before all you Crusie fans burn me at the stake, however, don't forget that I have only read four of her category romances and none of her single titles (which I do mean to try next. Bet Me is sitting on my bedside table as we speak). And while I might not find Crusie's books page-turners, they do make me want to head to the beach and be on holidays. I like them. I like them a lot. They're just not my favourite books in the world. Jane Austen and Charlotte Brontë still hold pride of place in my heart.
What about you – do you love Jennifer Crusie's novels? Do you have a favourite? Is there one in particular you think I should try? Do leave a comment because in the spirit of the season I'm giving away a copy of my new release Christmas At Candlebark Farm to one lucky commenter.