The Unidentified Redhead
I think the best word I can come up with to describe The Unidentified Redhead is try-hard. It simply tries too hard to be glib and quirky. What we end up with are people who don’t feel like real flesh-and-blood humans engaging in a romance that seems based primarily on mutual sexual attraction. That said, it’s also a light, easy read, kind of like consuming a jar of Marshmallow Fluff.
Ten years ago, a dejected Grace Sheridan left Los Angeles when she failed to launch a successful acting career. Now thirty-three years old, revitalized and uber-confident, she has returned, ready to make a name for herself as an actor. This time, she’s not giving up. She lives with her best friend and up-and-coming agent Holly who throws fabulous parties and introduces Grace to her roster of young actors also trying to make a go of show business. At one of these events, Grace meets Jack Hamilton and is immediately attracted to him. However, he’s just a baby, only twenty-four years old, so she flirts but has no expectations of anything more than a friendship with the guy.
Besides, Jack is poised to be the newest Hollywood It Guy when the movie he filmed, based on a hugely successful fiction franchise, is released in a few short months. Sexy and gorgeous, he comes complete with a British accent just made to drive women wild. When Jack’s interest in her seems to go deeper than simple flirtation, Grace isn’t sure what he sees in her when he could have his pick of any of the beauties populating the parties and clubs of LA. But she’s more than happy to enjoy a steamy affair for however long it lasts.
I know I’ve used this phrase in reviews before, but The Unidentified Redhead is really the literary equivalent of porn-without-plot. Once Jack and Grace meet, it’s only a matter of pages before they are getting busy, and then they pretty much don’t stop. A handful of pseudo-conflicts are thrown at them, but nothing that ever gave me a second’s concern that these two wouldn’t stay together. Their ten-year age difference is mentioned, but really doesn’t bother Grace all that much. An old flame from Grace’s (too distant) past appears on the scene, to no great detriment. Jack’s agent Holly is concerned for his career if he were to be perceived as being “taken” rather than as the sexy playboy about town, but that doesn’t slow his pursuit of Grace even after the paparazzi begin snapping incriminating photos. Even the big plot twist that should shut down Jack and Grace’s fledgling relationship proves to be only a minor speed bump on their road to happiness.
As a character, Grace is always “on”. She’s always there with the snarky remark or the glib observation. Since the story is told from her first person point of view, even her thoughts come over as rehearsed. None of it is too off-putting, but one scene, in which a very angry Grace is driving to Holly’s office, bothered me to such a degree that I felt I could never truly like a woman like Grace no matter how much fun she might be at parties:
“Seriously, Holls, what the fuck! How could you send me in there blind like that?” I yelled, swerving in and out of traffic like a crazy person. People were honking at me, and I flipped off at least three of them at once.
“Grace, calm down. I had no idea it was the same Michael O’Connell. I mean, what are the odds?” “What are the odds, indeed,” I grumbled as I cut someone else off. “Shut up!” I yelled as the man flashed his lights at me, screaming obscenities.
Road rage is never an appealing personality trait, and Grace’s over-the-top reaction is uncalled for given the context of her upset. It’s not like she’s racing through traffic to save the life of her child or stop global nuclear annihilation.
Perhaps the strangest part of this book, especially given the amount of between-the-sheets time we are privy to, is the fact that Grace and Jack don’t have actual intercourse until near the very end of the story. They engage in everything-but to such a ridiculous degree without ever doing the deed that I began to count pages. Rather than creating any kind of sexual tension, this silly progression only resulted in a highly anti-climactic “first time,” if you’ll pardon my pun. There was really no reason given for this delay, only the implication that both Jack and Grace are so satisfied by their oral acrobatics that anything else simply isn’t an urgency.
I bumped the grade of this book up from a straight C to a C+ because for all its faults, The Unidentified Redhead is an easy, smooth read. To continue my food metaphor from my opening paragraph, it’s a lot like a fast-food milkshake. It sounds good at the time, but when you’re about two-thirds of the way through, you realize it really doesn’t taste all that great and you’ve just wasted a whole bunch of calories.