Review: EZ Lovin' by Elaine Charton
Tuesday, April 15, 2008
EZ Lovin' by Elaine Charton
Swimming Kangaroo Books, 2007
Paperback, 213 pages - $10
When I agreed to review EZ Lovin', I thought I knew what I was getting into. I used to read my mom's romance novels behind her back in junior high school, and I knew even then that I shouldn't really take them as a model for how relations between the sexes should work. However, I don't know whether it's the years of graduate seminars in social theory or just a couple decades more experience of the world as it is, but the reading experience was even more painful than I'd thought it would be. I'm obviously not in the target audience for this type of book, but I find it rather depressing to think that there must still be a pretty fair market for them.
EZ Lovin' is a slightly modern romance in a modern setting, but it follows the old formulas with only a small nod to up-to-date ideas about gender relations. Abigail Fairfax, our heroine, runs her own art gallery, owns her own condo, and knows "self-defence" (whatever that means), but she (and the other female characters in the book) find the macho posturings of the men—especially, of course, our hero, Ezechial Zachariah ("EZ") McAllister—merely a mild annoyance, of the actually-kinda-cute variety. Arguing about EZ's over-the-top "Texas" machoness and paternalism gives the main characters something to do, but in the end, Abigail is overcome by his hypermasculine charms. After they marry, she gets to keep her art gallery, but EZ gets to keep his sexist bullshit. Oh, and any hope I may have had for a little enlightenment on other fronts was also thwarted—it turns out Abigail isn't going against her upper-crusty upbringing in falling in love with EZ, "the cowboy", because (surprise!) he's actually from an old-money ranching family in Texas. But on the other hand, I guess I should be thankful we've advanced enough that standard romances give at least a small nod to women's lib.
Taking it for what it is, EZ Lovin' isn't so bad by the standards of the write-by-numbers romance genre, but it's not so good, either. In a good romance, even if one knows perfectly well that the protagonists will end up together, one can still enjoy the suspense of getting there. In EZ Lovin', the overt sexual attraction between the protagonists is introduced too early and consummated too late, and the interpersonal conflict that keeps them apart too patently silly, for that suspense to ever really catch the imagination—at least my imagination. Writing-wise, I'd say it's only a little bit worse than average. The dialogue isn't always stilted, a few of the supporting characters aren't so type, the point of view only wanders back and forth between two of the characters, the mechanics of the denouement aren't completely predictable, and they did use a spell-checker. You won't learn anything real about the Boston art world, the operations of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or the surprises of human nature by reading this book, but then, would you really expect to?
There was one aspect that actually rather impressed me. Charton runs through nearly every cliché phrase in the genre in the first couple of chapters (strung together almost willy-nilly at the cost of story-coherence), and I was left wondering how she was going to get through the rest of the book. It turns out that having few clichés left made the rest more tolerable; the writing was still clunky and full of unimaginative and occasionally infelicitous turns of phrase, but at least I didn't feel quite so assailed by wordings straight out of the "How to Write a Romance Novel" handbook, and the incoherence level went down.
A final note: I felt rather led on when the condoms that were used as a plot device early in the book didn't make any appearance in the sex scene (nor did any discussion of any such thing). I mean, sure, this is escapist literature, which people read to imagine sex without complications, but then why introduce them into the story at all? Why give me the hope there could actually be an educational moment in the book? Oh right, because I'm not the target audience.
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