Check Me Out
A clean romance with a mildly dirty mind, Check Me Out is a Cyrano de Bergerac influenced piece about a dedicated librarian and the two men who have claims on her heart.
Assistant librarian Greta Elliott loves books and her local library more than anything in the whole universe. As the funds for her job and the branch she works in shrink, she tries to protest against the tide, doing anything she can to try to draw eyes to the library and its financial plight, even if that means embarrassing herself.
That is, until she bumps into a drop-dead gorgeous man in the poetry section of the library, who then delivers a birthday present from Will Sanders, her dear friend since high school and a high school civics teacher. The guy turns out to be Will’s cousin, dopey-in-person-but-brilliant-over-text local café worker Mackay – Mac – Sanders, and he is Will’s birthday gift to Greta – the perfect man. Awkward Greta likes him right away, but she has no idea how to attract the attention of a guy with Mac’s looks. Fortunately for her, slightly clueless Mac is willing to flirt.
Bit by bit, Mac and Greta begin to build a relationship – through free cups of cocoa at Mac’s workplace, banter-y poetry-filled texts, and romantic meals. But Greta soon realizes that while Mac is handsome and sweet, his real-life personality doesn’t match the texts she’s receiving. Meanwhile, Will always knows how to say the right things but she’s not physically attracted to him. Eventually, she realizes the truth. Will is providing all of the poetic gestures, texts and thoughts for Mac, acting as Cyrano to his Christian. Shy, overweight Will has always adored Greta and would like to turn their friendship into a romance, but thinking she will never be interested in him decides she should at least be happy with someone else.
Maybe it’s the Cyrano retelling, poorly told and thought out, and maybe it’s the heroine, but there’s something absolutely grating about Check Me Out.
Greta is a problem. She’s extremely shallow, extremely immature, and extremely sheltered; no wonder her teenaged-level idea of romance doesn’t allow for the possibility that her admirer might be Will. She judges everyone by the way they look, from her friend Marigold to Will, her best friend whom she’s supposed to treasure but constantly criticizes about his weight. She’s the worst stereotype of a virgin librarian who’s never been kissed, much less laid. With someone so unappealing leading the book it’s hard to care much about anything else going on. There is no grovel big enough for her to grovel to make her likeable, and though I know this fits the profile of the classic Roxanne character type oh, is she grating to read. And apart from a few shallow opinions here and there we never get a strong impression of what Greta’s reading or what she really likes, which is odd given she’s a librarian. Plus, one of her protests (staging a book burning right in front of the library while claiming the town’s refusal to renew a bond that will keep it afloat) is so over the top-dramatic it’s ridiculous.
Will and Mac are much, much more likable characters, but they’re trapped by their prescribed roles. Mac is shallow and we never get to know the real guy under the pretty face, while Will both challenges Greta and is kind of a kind of a doormat – and definitely someone who deserves better than Greta, even though he’s no prize himself for lying to her.
Everyone else in the story is equally bizarre. Marigold is a space cadet who tries to calm Greta down by encouraging her to behave like a cat – even petting her between the eyes. She turns out to have a secret secondary brilliant career, as does the grumpy old man across the street.
The Mac/Will/Greta relationship triangle is an imbalance of unequals. Will is always there helping Greta – with her library schemes, with her demanding mother (who wants Greta to get married immediately), with her concerns about Mac – while she judges his weight and life choices. And yet she’s childishly possessive of their friendship, insisting he shouldn’t get a girlfriend (and couldn’t because of his weight) while she’s allowed to pant after Mac.
Greta’s observations on Mac are very girlish in a way that makes one wonder if she’s ever seen a man, let alone been on a date, let alone wants him for anything but to boink him. She literally sits there and stares at Mac with her mouth wide open during a date because he’s so handsome. It’s hilariously horny for a book from a publisher that specializes in wholesome and closed-door romance; it’s as if an erotic story is trying to burst out of the seams of its chaste bindings.
Even the library plot makes no sense. Does Greta want the bond to pass so they can have permanent protection from the city, or does she just want to raise enough money to take care of the library? Does she not think that maybe accessibility and amenities are more important than architectural value?
But in the end Check Me Out fails because it fails as a romance. Spending time with Greta was sadly a chore I do not recommend to my fellow readers.