Pencil Him In
Pencil Him In is an otherwise boringly bland book with a couple of good scenes inserted. I smiled a time or two, but I never connected with the characters, and I wondered what they saw in each other. This is a piffle of a book.
Anna Simmons’ childhood consisted of being dragged around by her lazy, feckless mother. She rebelled at 18 by staying put, working her way through college, and becoming a workaholic’s workaholic. Now she’s an ad-exec at Arsenal Advertising, living and sleeping in her office, wearing out her assistants, and subsisting on oranges and peanut-butter cups. Anna’s just pulled off a mega-coup for the company by getting Goddess Sportswear as a client. Life is perfect, and about to get even more so, because Camilla Lockhart, who owns Arsenal, announces that Anna’s going to be the new company president. But there’s one catch: she has to take a six-month leave of absence because Camilla thinks she’s in danger of burnout.
So off Anna goes, whining all the way, to her dust-covered condo. While washing several month’s worth of laundry, she meets her new neighbor Sam Drynan, who complains that she’s a machine hog. Sam’s an out-of-commission fireman who broke his back during a rescue. He and Anna make a tenuous connection. When Camilla invites her to a party, Anna knows that Camilla has matchmaking in mind, so she asks Sam to be her pretend-date. Pretty soon they are having lots of pretend-dates. But there’s trouble with the Goddess Sportswear account and when Anna finds out, she gets very panicky. Can she sneak back to work? And what about Sam? Can he play second fiddle to a workaholic? And what about his own job? Sam can’t be a fireman anymore, so what’s he going to do?
The book’s love scenes are sensuous and tender and very nice indeed. There’s also a good scene in which Sam takes a shower and mourns for his lost career. But those were exceptions. Most of the book is either silly or infuriating.
Anna’s character lacks realism. I know people whose whole lives are their job, and who’ve sometimes pulled overnighters in the office, but they know how to function when they’re off the job. Anna is never off the job. She can barely recognize her condo and has no social life – none at all. She had a good friend (at least she called him that) who moved and left her some messages on her home phone, but she had no idea since she hasn’t been home in weeks. She is so dedicated to her job that she doesn’t even bother to do her laundry. She sends her suits out to be cleaned and orders underwear off the Internet. And despite a diet of peanut-butter cups, she is skinny. I’m sorry – she’s just too cartoonish to make me believe her. The climax of the book is when she is forced to choose between her job and Sam. And this workaholic’s workaholic chooses…(oh, come on – you’ve read enough romances to know).
Sam had potential, but he was such a cardboard figure that it was hard to connect to him. He did have that one moment of real poignancy while mourning his lost career, but for the most part he hung around, alternately lusting after Anna and whining. For the longest time I wondered what his problem was. Yes, he had a broken back. No, he couldn’t continue to fight fires. But no, he wasn’t crippled, all his friends supported him, as did his family, and the department offered him a job teaching and acting as liaison between the department and local schools. So why does Sam spend three quarters of the book resisting this and not wanting to rejoin the land of the living? What’s worse is what happens in the final quarter; people who have given up on life do not seemingly change overnight, except perhaps in this book.
Pencil Him In is a quick and easy read, but it’s also filled with cartoonish characters and a lack of reality. If you’re looking for substance, look elsewhere.