Oh, man. I haven’t read a Harlequin Presents since… what, the 7th grade? The first thing I noticed when I picked up this book by Susan Napier is… HOLY SHIT, IS THAT ADAM SANDLER ON THE FRONT COVER? Dude, look at the picture below and tell me that’s not Adam Sandler chewing on the poor girl’s neck!
Anyway, the heroine of this little novel is Jane—Plain Jane jokes abound, dear readers—Sherwood, is one of them career woman types who just wants to prove to everyone, especially her dear dead daddy that she is a shrewd business woman and can succeed at anything a man can do, damn it, shut up! One day, her equally rich best friend, Ava, who is about to get married, implores Jane to come up with a plan that will make it easy for Ava to call the wedding off because she is in love with the chauffeur and is too cowardly to tell her parents the truth. Jane decides to help her because Ava is a sad, pathetic piece of crap with no spine to speak of, and really, it would have been kind of Ava’s mother had she just drowned Ava immediately after birth upon discovering that Ava is actually a fucking invertebrate jellyfish. On the day of the wedding, Jane, who is not a part of the wedding party because Ava’s mom hates her, stands up at the part where the priests asks if there’s anyone who will object to Ava getting married, and declares that Ava couldn’t possibly marry the groom because she and Ava are in love… ha ha… just kidding. That’s not it. That would have been awesome, though. No, instead, Jane announces QUITE LOUDLY that she has been having an affair with the groom for months and the marriage would be blasphemous to God.
The groom (who looks like fucking Adam Sandler on the front cover), understandably, is pissed and vows to ruin Jane with every fiber of his being (he means it, too). Not only was he humiliated at the altar, HE WAS HUMILIATED AT THE ALTAR. To an alpha hero, that’s akin to raping his mother and sister, burning his house down, and shitting on his ancestors’ graves. Seriously. Also, the wedding would have meant an infusion of cash to his start-up business, and an added bonus of a quiet, pretty, biddable wife that he could put upon a pedestal of delicate womanhood and worship. Or some shit like that. Anyway, Ryan Blair, the “hero” (and I don’t use ironic quotation marks unless absolutely necessary), disappears after the wedding and comes back three years later as a rich, rich, powerful real estate tycoon (I think he got rich the same way Heathcliff got rich), with every intention of destroying everything Jane has ever valued. With a tenacity and sheer ruthlessness that Machiavelli would have admired, Ryan puts Jane out of business, intimidates her creditors into calling in her debts, gets her car repossessed, and does not stop even after Jane gets evicted from her rent-control apartment. Basically, he just wants her on her knees, begging for mercy, desperate and clinging, with no choice whatsoever but to depend on his “kindness”. At this point, I check the publication date of the book and am surprised to find that it was released in 1997. Huh. I would thought 1985. Ryan is such a fucking bastard that he wouldn’t have been out of place in an HP published in the eighties.
Here’s an example of his assholeness: after Jane gets kicked out of her apartment, he sends her a note asking her to meet him at a hotel to discuss “business”. Jane, who has a broken hand from punching Ryan at a society function (which he subverts by following Jane outside and kissing her in front of the paparazzi so that people would think that their fight is personal and not over his shady business practices—what a prince!), accepts the invitation because she ACTUALLY BELIEVES that a man who has been actively destroying her life for the past several months, could only have altruistic intentions when he sent out the invitation. FOOL! As it turns out, Ryan’s business proposition involves Jane getting naked with a Danny Devito look-alike business associate of Ryan’s and “entertaining” him. That’s right, dear readers, FUCKING RYAN tries to pimp her out! He also tells her that he will be her “business manager” from now on and if she “entertains” the business associates that he brings her, he will make sure that she never goes hungry. What a dick! Anyway, Jane decides that Ryan is bluffing (well, duh!) and decides to call his bluff, which is a bad idea, because she is already buzzing on the painkillers (broken hand, remember?) that she chases with booze (idiot). Giddy and a little high, Jane grabs the ten thousand dollar check that Ryan wrote out to her to have sex with Danny Devito, and goes up to the hotel room with Danny Devito. Just when I thought that Jane was going to have sex with Danny Devito (dude, some of these HPs are really fucked up, alright? Gimme a break), Ryan enters the room (like a good pimp, he has a key just in case he has to interfere), and drags a drunken, boozy Jane with him back to his room, where they have a fucked up, thoroughly humiliating sex scene (that involves the bank check—ugh, I just threw up in my mouth remembering it), with Ryan calling Jane a prostitute every five minutes. A reasonable woman would have woken up in the middle of the night and cut off this bastard’s dick while he slept, right? Nope, that’s not what Jane does at all. If you’ve guessed that she runs away, crying like a little bitch with a skinned knee the next morning (after Ryan asks him to be his mistress—holy shit, it’s a Judith McNaught historical!), give yourself ten points.
At this point, I’m thinking there’s no way that Ryan could possibly redeem himself. After all, this Adam Sandler look-alike tries to pimp her out to some old guy, changes his mind, then DATE RAPES HER (what else would you could call it? She’s totally drugged when they do it)! Jane, on the other hand, hasn’t impressed me very much, either. Sure, she’s a pathetic little crybaby with major daddy issues (“daddy called me stupid and said I wasn’t going to amount to anything, so I will prove him wrong!”), but in the first chapter, she kind of blew me away. I mean, she punches this dickhead so hard the she breaks her hand! Napier describes her as a “voluptuous” and “big-boned” woman, so she’s not some skinny Lindsay Lohan type girl who’d get blown away with a strong gust of wind, so I’m thinkin’ she punched him pretty hard. I don’t condone violence—what the hell am I talking about, of course, I do! Especially when the hero is such a dick! The funny thing is, after they have sex, it’s like Jane had a frontal lobotomy and the doctors fucked up really bad and took out half of her brain, instead.
Anyway, Jane runs away to some rundown beach cottage that Ava lets her borrow (if your best friend has to save you from marrying a man you don’t love, you FUCKING owe her for life), so she can lick her wounds and hide out from Ryan, the psycho. It is here that Jane realizes that she doesn’t want to be a brass-balled career woman type, but a fashion designer, you guys! She has always wanted to be a fashion designer, but her father bullied her into dropping it because clothes are stupid and girly. Jane is stupid. Jane lets people bully her. I want to jump all over her stupid broken hand until it falls off. Of course, Ryan finds her because Ava tells him where she is (I guess she owes him, too, because she guilted her supposed best friend into causing a scene that would enable her to break off the wedding, and thus, leave Ryan at the altar). FOOL. This is when I kind of forgive Ryan. He drops the creepy asshole act who bullies Jane and adopts a new bully persona, but a sweet one who’s only doing it for her “own good”. I guess that’s better? He’d brush her hair, cook for her, make sure she’s got an umbrella when she goes out to the beach… you know, shit like that. He’s still a bully, though.
Oh, and Jane’s dead dad is an asshole in ways that Ryan can only aspire to. Seriously.
As much as I found myself gritting my teeth while reading this book, I really enjoyed it. I mean, it’s so HORRIBLE AND AWFUL AND BAD that it’s fabulous! It’s melodramatic, the dialogue could make a soap opera writer cringe, and there’s a stupid “twist” that attempts to make Ryan’s ATROCIOUS treatment of Jane to be justified, but it’s an enjoyable kind of stupid. I also found myself laughing unintentionally at the supposed “romantic” parts of the book, because I kept hearing Adam Sandler in my head saying shit like “want to touch the hiney” in his stupid, retarded man-child voice. Jane is so doormat-like and pathetic and helpless that’s it almost entertaining to watch her get beat up on and suffer throughout the novel, and Ryan is such a horrible person that he makes Snidely Whiplash look like Prince Charming. But it’s FUNNY! Oh, at the end of the book, just when I thought Ryan was going to start behaving, he decides to humiliate Jane one last time in front of his society friends. AWESOME!
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