Desert Isle Keeper
Beauty Queen starts out as a bit of a screwball comedy. Somewhere along the way, though, it turns into an insightful and emotionally intense romance between two imperfect people. It made me laugh and cry, in turns.
The book opens with a hilarious want-ad that could only exist in the heroine’s imagination:
Dynamic, Exciting, and Very Important Company seeks former Beauty Queen with no discernable skills or knowledge for any position, no experience in any job-related field, and less than 30 hours toward Bachelor of Arts degree. Will train.
Rebecca Lear is a woman with looks, money, a sweet five-year-old son, an SUV, and a nice house. So what’s the problem? Well, a recent divorce shattered her self-esteem and she feels lost, alone, and insignificant. The very entertaining first chapter of this book shows her sweating her way through a Transformation Strategies seminar with several other women, who seem less than sympathetic to her plight. “Get a job!” they tell her. But Rebecca has spent so long being what her husband and father wanted her to be – a beauty queen – that she just doesn’t know how to do anything else. Then she is invited to volunteer for a political campaign: an old crony of her ex is running for lieutenant governor of Texas. The politician only wants her on the committee for her social connections, but Rebecca is determined to parlay this volunteer position into real experience, which might someday lead to a real career.
Her presence on the committee infuriates Matt Parrish, a successful and handsome lawyer also working on the campaign. Rebecca and Matt met once before, in circumstances that convinced him that she’s a wacko (and embarrassed me right down to my toes). He resents the fact that a man with his talent, drive, and expertise has to share credit with an incompetent socialite whose only claim to fame is that she used to be Miss Texas. Matt is more than a bit arrogant; his patronizing attitude toward Rebecca cuts deep, because he’s (for the most part) quite correct in his opinion of her.
This is a romantic comedy that portrays its lead characters with unexpected psychological depth. Ms. London shows that Matt and Rebecca are flawed people; while I liked them, it’s easy to see that they both have a whole lot of room for improvement. Rebecca, for instance, is right to try to get job experience by volunteering, but it soon becomes cringingly clear that she’s going about it entirely the wrong way. And Matt is right that Rebecca has no experience, but he’s wrong to be so openly condescending towards her and the others on the campaign.
While they’re fighting over the campaign, they’re also getting closer to each other after hours, and discovering that there’s more to them both than what they see at the office. This leads to a climactic showdown in the middle of the book in which Matt and Rebecca rip away one another’s masks and expose exactly what is most wrong with the other. It is a painful, hurtful fight that’s surprisingly intense considering how blithe this book at first seemed to be. After all that brutal honesty, how will they build a relationship?
This book focuses almost solely on the main couple, with a brief cameo by the hero and heroine of the first book (Material Girl) in the series. There’s also an interesting sideline about Rebecca’s parents, which I gather runs through the series. Her father is an angry old coot who is attempting, without much success, to reconcile with Rebecca’s mother. She loves him but has been hurt by him too often. Readers who want to see how this will be resolved will have to tune in for the next novel. I’ll be one of them.
Balancing comedy and drama is not easy feat, and in my opinion London occasionally errs too much on the wacky side. Much of London’s humor made me laugh, like that first imaginary want-ad, but sometimes I just rolled my eyes at the exaggerated setups and forced jokes. For instance, Matt’s secretary isn’t just a gay man, he’s a gay man who gushes like a schoolgirl and has all the Miss Texas pageants taped from the mid-80s on. When Rebecca has a little too much wine, she doesn’t just get tipsy, she gets humiliatingly smashed and starts having pratfalls like one of the Three Stooges. And don’t get me started on those zany bingo-playing seniors at the AARP convention.
Most of the time, though the humor in this book is funny. The story takes the reader on a roller coaster ride of emotional ups and downs, augmented by some very steamy bedroom scenes. And I just loved to see these two people falling in love. If you’ve been wanting to read a witty and touching contemporary, pick this one up right away. It’s great