Underneath it All
The main characters in Underneath it All are quite likable. The hero is sweet and gentle with the heroine, and the heroine has an appealing zest for life. Unfortunately, they’re stuck in a stale, cliché-ridden plot. The result is a book that’s strictly average.
It could scarcely have started out worse. In the very first sentence, the author uses the word “literally” as emphasis, instead of to mean what it actually means. The hero “was literally on top of the world.” No he wasn’t. That makes me crazy – not literally.
Anyway. The plot here is familiar. The hero hides his true identity. He falls in love. He keeps meaning to tell the heroine who he really is, but he never does, and when she finds out in the worst possible way, she feels betrayed and hurt. The blow is somewhat softened in the end by the fact that his dark secret is that he’s actually more rich, handsome, and eligible than he appears. One of the real reasons he kept the secret is that he wanted to know whether a woman could love him for who he really is, rather than because he’s rich and handsome. See, rich and handsome playboys are vulnerable, too.
Oh, all right, I’ll give you some details. The hero is Darren Kaiser, who is a VP in his father’s publicity firm. A magazine decides that he’s the most eligible bachelor in Manhattan, and he’s soon being hounded by the media and desperate single women. Darren flees to Seattle to pursue his dream of being a computer programmer. He dons baggy shorts, a Hawaiian shirt, and black-rimmed glasses, and voila, his own mama wouldn’t recognize him. He’s soon programming away, living upstairs from a spunky redhead named Kate Monahan. And you can probably write the rest of this plot summary yourself.
Kate is a hairstylist who didn’t finish high school. She’s a little sensitive about her educational status and social class, but she’s not into angst. She is funny, nice, and lives life to its fullest. Kate wants to get her diploma and go to college someday, and so she’s saving her pennies. (Her boyfriend is a banker who is helping her invest, and I’m sure you can guess where that’s leading, too.) In the meantime, she’s a woman who knows that she’s pretty, likes nice clothes that she can’t afford, and enjoys parties and her friends.
When a bespectacled geek named “Dean” moves in upstairs, she’s prepared to be nice, but his obnoxious behavior over the laundry facilities push her over the edge. (Rudeness is Darren’s way of keeping other people at bay, lest they recognize his gorgeous face.) There’s a confrontation. Up until this point, Darren has strictly been ruled by the plot, and so I didn’t like him. But when he realizes that he has actually hurt Kate’s feelings, he apologizes to her. When the inevitable breakup with her boyfriend comes along, Darren treats her with great kindness. He encourages her to reach for her dreams, and never for a moment doubts her or belittles her. He’s just a doll. I liked him and Kate very much.
If I didn’t like them so much, this book would be getting a worse grade than it does. Some authors can take an often-used plot or idea and make it glow. Warren doesn’t manage that here, though her likable characters do mitigate the staleness somewhat. But the setup, climax, and resolution are completely by-the-numbers, and when I closed this book I couldn’t shake the feeling that there was nothing here I hadn’t read before.
My colleague Leigh Thomas recently wrote an interesting article about all the strengths and weaknesses of series romance. In its attractive and appealing characters, Underneath it All has some of the strengths. In its totally unoriginal and predictable plot, it embodies the weaknesses. The result is a disappointingly average book that had me yawning. Literally.