Drop Dead Gorgeous
If you’re keeping track of these things, Drop Dead Gorgeous is British chick lit written more along the lines of Katie Fforde than it is Marian Keyes. Fforde specializes in small ensemble stories featuring nice, somewhat fey people dealing with relationship difficulties (think Four Weddings and a Funeral ) and Keyes writes edgier fiction starring dysfunctional characters who manage to find love in spite of themselves (think Bridget Jones Diary).
The primary nice person in Cheska’s second novel is Imogen (Imo) West, owner and operator of a flower shop called Say it with Flowers. Imo’s marriage to older man Edward was never that exciting, but it was comfortable. Okay maybe the comfort had become a bit stultifying and Imo was thinking of a change, but she wasn’t really looking for the unexpected. And that’s exactly what Edward’s sudden death from a heart attack is, unexpected and stunning. This abrupt destruction of her own predictable life is exacerbated by her realization that there was far more to Edward’s life then she’d guessed. Imo’s discovery of a picture of a blonde beauty in Edward’s desk has made this more than clear.
What’s a girl to do? If she’s one of the inhabitants of the nicer realm of chick lit novels, she talks to her beauty consultant best friend, attempts a few nights out meeting men (very unsuccessfully) and after a few pleasant interactions falls in love with a handsome artist, who returns the feelings, though not without some subtle angsting along the way. If that sounds like damning with faint praise, it’s not meant to. It’s meant to convey the very nice pacing and tone that makes this a thoroughly enjoyable entry in the chick lit oeuvre.
Though the plotting echoes the many other novels that have crossed the pond, Cheska’s characters make this one stand out. Simply put, this is an engaging cast. Imo is likable from page one. Readers will want to join her when she visits her best friend Jude’s ever changing beauty shop. And while Jude initially comes across as one of those stock characters (let’s call her ballsy gal pal), there’s actually more to her than meets the eye. Add in Jude’s mother and daughter, Imo’s mother, the possible other women in Edward’s past, and you have an enjoyable mix of lives colliding, with interesting results.
If I haven’t said much about Imo’s love interest (okay I haven’t really said anything), it’s because her romance with Alex, while nice, is written almost as an afterthought. And that’s a problem. Not because this is a romance novel; it’s not. But because Alex is a nebulous character involved with a stereotypical girlfriend (let’s call her the villainous vixen) who never moves beyond that. He’s attractive and Imo’s interactions with him are generally smartly written, but that’s it. Alex’s girlfriend is the one character lacking the depth given to the others and the problems she causes were thisclose to trite.
The plotting involving Alex brings the level of the writing down in the last third of the book, but readers will still get a lot of enjoyment from Imo and company. Fans of edgier characters will probably still find something to like in Imo and Jude’s friendship and their attempts to put some zing in their lives. But the audience who’ll most enjoy Ms. Cheska’s latest are more likely to be fans of Notting Hill than they are About a Boy.