Bet Me

This was originally posted to my booklist on Livejournal on January 1, 2009, in slightly different form. The unaltered original original can be here, at #26 for the year. (Boy, I read a lot more books in those halcyon, pre-Facebook days!) I think I over-did the porn=romance idea, but what the hell; it seemed right to me at the time. I haven't re-read Cruisie's book since then, but I still remember it fondly.

Bet Me, St-Martin's Press, 2004, by Jennifer Crusie.

When you get down to it, what is pornography but a wish-fulfillment fantasy? Usually, it's "boy fucks girl" without any of the foreplay. But there are other wish-fulfillment fantasies than just sex. For teen-age boys, there are super-heroes and sword-swinging barbarians. And for women, there are Romances.

An online friend suggested I have a go at a Romance and so it was that I found myself walking home from the library with Jennifer Crusies's novel, Bet Me, weighing down my knapsack.

Image: Cover to Bet Me, by Jennifer Cruisie

Romances are usually dismissed as "fluff" or "crap" or any number of mean-spirited slurs. And it's true: Bet Me does not deal with Today's Geopolitical Situation, or The War In Iraq, or Global Warming, or anything of that shit. It's unabashedly escapist and unabashedly formulaic. Though I think the marketing is a bit of a cheat - it's more Romantic Comedy than Romance, or so I believe.

"Minerva Dobbs knows that happily-ever-after is a fairy tale, especially with a man who asked her to dinner to win a bet, even if he is gorgeous Calvin Morrisey."

Minerva is an actuary, working for her father's firm. She's heavier than she wants to be and dresses like a stereotypical puritan. Calvin is a man with a past, a man who has run away from every woman he's gotten close to.

And when she (having over-heard the bet) accepts his invitation to dinner, the story begins. They spar like Cary Grant and Kate Hepburn did in The Philadelphia Story.

Min is a 32 year-old woman trying to diet her way to the anorexic American ideal of woman-hood - and failing. She has curves and she's never going to lose them. Cal is a man who tells her she's beautiful as she is, who sees through her defences and who even encourages to her to eat some carbs from time to time.

Nevertheless, complications ensue, her fault, his fault, and (as possibly the weakest part of the novel, due to the machinations of his and her ex-girlfriend and boyfriend, respectively) the fault of plot complications.

Does the boy get the girl in the end? Well, d'uh. It's a Romance. Bet Me is a book full of clever, witty dialogue we can only wish happened in real life; it's monstrous families and the people who rise above their damage to over-come that parental abuse. It's True Love against all the odds, and Crusie does it wonderfully.

If Crusie's Bet Me is not about to knock Jane Austen off her pedestal, it is nevertheless a delightful, a tasty, bit of froth. Despite some of my misgivings about the plot, I was more than able to willingly suspend my disbelief and just enjoy the ride, laughing out loud every few pages.

Why the hell can't Hollywood do this sort of thing anymore? Pornography of the mind, of the long term. It's clever, it's fun, it's a great ride. And what's wrong with that?

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