The Perils of Paulie
It’s a mad, mad, mad, mad world in Katie MacAlister’s latest romantic comedy The Perils of Paulie. It’s also a lot of over the top characters, awkward situations and clichéd humor that never quite zings as much as the author probably believes it does.
The Russian mob is out to get Paulina Rostakova! At least they are if you believe her overly protective father’s cries every time she tries to move out of the house. Paulie is fed up with her father’s dramatics and at twenty-nine it’s becoming a little humiliating to still live in her parent’s house without a real career. Fortunately her step-mother has always been in Pauile’s corner and comes up with a way for her to escape the house and do something fun. An English production company is looking for attractive young people to participate in a reality show modeled on the 1908 New York to Paris road race, including period cars and an international cast. Paulie has long admired the story of female adventurer Nelly Bly’s trip around the world so she jumps at the opportunity to try something that would make her personal hero proud. Grabbing her passport and sneaking away from her brutish bodyguard, Paulie arrives in New York City ready to start her own adventure while journaling her experiences along the way.
Paulie is added to a team of other single women with the era appropriate name of the Sufferin’ Suffragettes but her race gets off to an embarrassing start during the first night’s meet and greet cocktail hour. Put on the spot by another contestant about her motivation for being on TV, Paulie jokes that her only reason for joining the show was the opportunity to hook up with a handsome foreigner along the way. British racer Dixon Ainsley of team Engaging Englishmen just happens to be right behind Pauile and his shocked expression is enough to reveal that he heard every word she said. That inauspicious meeting leads to a few more awkward exchanges between the pair until Dixon calls for a do-over of their introduction. As they get to know each other during the days of pre-race preparations Paulie determines that her ideas about hooking up with a foreigner aren’t so crazy after all.
The race begins in Times Square to a whole lot of fanfare but quickly falls into the rut of any tedious long distance drive. Team Sufferin’ Suffragette stays ahead of the pack for a short period but a blown tire soon blows both their lead and everyone’s tempers. Paulie discovers that the reality of filming a “Reality” show is a lot of contrived situations and a whole lot of prima donnas who only care for how much screen time they’re getting. After checking in for the first leg of the race, everyone is road-weary and all Paulie can think about is crawling into bed and de-stressing for the day; however a knock on the wrong hotel room door puts her in front of a half-dressed Dixon Ainsley and her heart starts racing all over again.
The Perils of Paulie has a cute premise but it’s just a mess of badly set-up jokes and silly people doing really childish things all in the name of celebrity. Paulie and Dixon are written so they come across as the most “normal” of all the participating racers but there are several scenes where I was certain these two mature, capable adults had been replaced by moody and reckless teenagers. One would expect that a twenty-nine year old woman would have the ability to discuss her life and future with her parents calmly; but during a dinner between then three of them, Paulie loses control, stalks off in a huff and then returns to the table all pissed off that her father is trying to ruin her life. I hear words like that coming from my thirteen year old and would never expect that from an adult! Should I even care about a main character who I want to send to her room for a Time Out?
Unfortunately that image of two teenagers playing at being adults even carries over to how the relationship develops between Paulie and Dixon. Dixon has issues about being in a relationship – ever – since an engagement nine years earlier went badly. He’s been brooding ever since and swears to his family that he’s not ready to start seeing another woman because… Reasons. Of course, that all changes once he sees Paulie in her undergarments and suddenly he’s all revved up (sorry, I couldn’t help the car pun). Soon after, any pretense of them trying to stay friendly competitors goes out the window and they’re more like two high schoolers on Prom Night in the back seat of one of the race cars.
The book’s only saving grace is what’s happening to Paulie and the other contestants while racing across the world. Someone is trying to sabotage the teams but they’re doing it in such a way that it looks like simple mechanical problems with the cars or production mistakes that could plague any television show. Only Paulie and Dixon suspect some of the other competitors have resorted to underhanded methods to play the villains on the show and ultimately win the cash prize. The pair somehow manage to keep afloat in an ever dwindling contestant pool until it’s them against the team of men scheming to win and a producer hell bent on pushing the drama for the best possible ratings.
The Perils of Paulie is a bit of a lemon as far as romances go and probably needed a good tune-up before getting on the road to readers. (Okay – no more car puns, I promise!)