Mr. Perfect on Paper
Jean Meltzer offers up another funny, sweet, poignant story with wonderful protagonists in her new novel Mr. Perfect on Paper.
Dara Robinowitz comes from a long line of shadchaniyot (Jewish matchmakers) and has built an extremely successful company by combining her love of coding with the family business. J-Mate is the most popular Jewish dating app on the market – but the market is constantly changing. Dara knows that to keep her business relevant, she needs to provide her customers with exactly what their fickle little hearts desire. Which is why she has created J-eography, a new feature which will allow Jewish singles to locate other Jewish singles who interest them in their own neighborhood. Gone are the lengthy forms asking about your career, your interests and hobbies, your preferences. This new, more casual approach helps you meet a total stranger and decide for yourself if they are right for you. It goes against the grain for Dara. It triggers all her anxieties – of which she has A LOT – but she is devoted to her firm and determined to see it stay competitive. She even does what she would normally find unthinkable to help it launch – she agrees to an interview on a morning talk show alongside her grandmother in exchange for free publicity. But as the old saying goes, “there ain’t no such thing as a free lunch.” Dara has no idea just how much this quickie appearance is going to cost her.
After his wife died, Chris (Christopher) Steadfast packed up his daughter Lacey and all their belongings and moved to the Big Apple. He also gave up being a serious, investigative journalist to anchor Good News New York, a feel-good mid-morning program whose breakout star has been a vegan golden retriever named Bucky. His new work hours allow him to take his daughter to school and go home early enough to spend evenings with her. The atmosphere is a lot less stressful than that of your typical newsroom – or at least it was until a rival show started stealing all their good stories and Chris is advised that cancellation is imminent unless the ratings can be turned around. And then a miracle happens in the form of a clever Jewish bubbe and her sexy granddaughter.
Dara expected that the interview might have glitches given her grandmother’s Alzheimers, which is why she had given the producers a script to work off of and had advised them to direct their questions to her. But she had underestimated her bubbe, Miriam. Before they are ten minutes into their segment, Bubbe shares Dara’s checklist for “The Perfect Jewish Husband” (created during a drunken evening out) with the viewing audience. Miriam’s charm and Dara’s desperate but sweet attempts to get the interview back on track are television gold and within a day they are a viral sensation.
When Chris sees the viewing numbers of that clip and recognizes just how popular Dara and her bubbe have made the show he comes up with a desperate plan to save his job. He proposes they take Dara’s list seriously and set out to find her the perfect Jewish husband. She wants nothing to do with it – until she learns the show will be canceled unless they can gain a whole lot of new viewers. Chris is Dara’s secret celebrity crush; one she never planned to act on but enjoyed indulging in. (Bucky clips are what keep Dara smiling when her days turn sour.) There is no way she’s giving that up without a fight, so she agrees to Chris’s seemingly crazy idea. But she never expected that Chris, a non-Jewish single dad who isn’t any of Dara’s ‘musts’ for a husband might just be the Mr. Perfect she has been looking for all along.
Ms. Meltzer does an absolutely spectacular job with the cultural aspect of her story. Dara’s Judaism is such a vibrant, integral part of her life and is so beautifully and carefully explained that I felt completely immersed in this aspect of the narrative. I also appreciated very much that Judaism is explained as not just a faith or lifestyle but as a fundamental aspect of Dara’s heritage. Who she is as a person is derived from who her ancestors were and who she wants her children to be.
The author once more does a great job of showcasing living with a chronic illness. Dara has a generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) and the way she manages and treats it is woven beautifully into the fabric of the tale. Ms. Meltzer captures with complete credibility the impatience and intolerance of others who don’t understand what being chronically ill means and the frustration and hurt caused when people accuse the sufferer of faking or exaggerating their illness to get out of things they don’t want to do.
Dara is a delightful heroine. She’s smart, talented, driven, strong, quirky, decent, and kind despite all she has going on. She’s a wonderful granddaughter, sister, and friend.
Chris is pretty amazing, too. He is a great dad and friend as well as being a genuinely nice guy, and he becomes a wonderful support for Dara as they work together. When others get frustrated by an anxiety attack she has or when they just don’t know what to say to help her through it, Chris is there. He always knows what to say and how to help her handle her problems while getting the most out of her opportunities.
But while I absolutely adored them as individuals, I didn’t love them as a couple. Dara spends most of the text (hilariously) dating other men, which really put a damper on my enjoyment of the romance. Chris is such a good friend during this period that I found myself more or less accepting that was his permanent position. While there is some longing on both their parts, they both have really good reasons for not acting on those feelings. Reasons that are so well explained in fact, that when they get together at the end of the book, I struggled to accept it and wanted them to be BFFs who found love elsewhere. That, by the way, didn’t really impact my enjoyment of the story. This is a women’s fiction/romance hybrid where the characters don’t acknowledge their love until the end, so their charming friendship, uproarious adventures, and personal journeys take up most of the page space and those are an absolute a joy to read.
Another tiny fly in the ointment is how quickly and easily Lacey accepts Dara into her life. A girl just entering her tweens whose mom has only been dead a couple of years, Lacey can be emotional and angsty (par for the course at that age) and I didn’t buy that she welcomed her dad’s new love so easily and quickly.
The well-communicated love for faith and heritage, excellent descriptions of life with GAD, and the sweet, silly, sometimes slap-sticky humor, make Mr. Perfect on Paper a pleasure to read. I found the story delightful and amusing and think others probably will too – if they keep their romance expectations low.
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I've been an avid reader since 2nd grade and discovered romance when my cousin lent me Lord of La Pampa by Kay Thorpe in 7th grade. I currently read approximately 150 books a year, comprised of a mix of Young Adult, romance, mystery, women's fiction, and science fiction/fantasy.