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Spotlight on Carly Phillips, Under the Boardwalk (written June 11, 2008)

August 3, 2008

Aw man, I really didn’t want to do this. I was hoping the book could sit on my desk and, I dunno, end up underneath a pile of stuff and never be heard from again. But, unfortunately, it’s due back at the library tomorrow, so I should probably start my Spotlight.

This book is another one of those that gets mentally filed under “Crap: Try to avoid author; she is contributing to the problem.” It’s the kind of brainless fluff that drops out of your head the moment after you put it down, but takes down some of your brain cells with it. I marked one point of it as “discuss later” by putting an index card in the page. The next time something bothered me, I ripped the card in half and had two makeshift bookmarks. As the book and I went on (antagonistically), I had shredded almost three full index cards to mark out problem spots.

Here is what the book looks like now:

Thing is, I can’t even tell you what the book was about anymore, really. I mean, there are twins and a movie reference in the beginning and the end (but not so much in the middle, if I remember correctly, which I like to call “lazy writing”) and unnecessary putting of TSTL heroines in danger and…I dunno, let’s go to the index cards.

Ah, the first irritating thing. Our heroine Ariana is looking for her missing sister and has come up against her sister’s former co-worker Maria, who is defined by two characteristics: being a single parent and being “prickly.” YOU know the type—she pushes away the man she likes because she’s been hurt in the past, and yet for some reason believes that she has enough of a claim on him to be snotty and jealous with any other woman that interacts with him, in this case Ariana. Fortunately for us, Ariana is a psych professor, so she knows how to do things like placate Maria by saying reasonable things like “Insecurity’s not attractive.” I know that if *I* said anything like that to a stranger, I’d HOPE she’d punch me for being presumptuous. Oh, but what really got me is Phillips’s ability to let you know things so subtley, like “She deliberately used another waitress’s information as a means of confronting Maria.” Now THAT’s lazy writing, and by “lazy” I mean insulting to the reader.

In case we can’t muster up enough emotion for the lamely-detailed Quinn, Our Hero, it’s okay, because Phillips gives him not only A Troubled Past but a Teenaged Sidekick in the form of Sam, a girl who wears a baseball cap to hide her shame at being a foster kid. Except mostly, it just hides her hair. Since the book never says anything about boys doing better in the foster system than girls, I’m not really sure what’s going on here, except that at the end, Sam wears a dress and her hair down, so she’s finally free to…uh, be a stereotypical female, I guess. I dunno. But this second bit o’index card marks marks Ariana and Quinn’s first kiss, which leads to the next bookmark, on the very next page, which I’m fairly certain is there to point out that Phillips likes wet sex scenes. Now, you can either find this realistic (?) or kinda gross. Since I tend to skim or skip the sex stuff anyway, I vote gross, especially because the wording—“a rush of liquid trickled between her legs”—makes it sounds as if Ariana just peed herself.

Oh, but then she remembers that she’s looking (sort of; when the plot calls for it) her sister and calls the whole thing off. “Just because I’m sexually attracted to you doesn’t make me stupid,” she says. Oh, Ariana, I forgive you. It’s because Phillips writes you stupid that you’re stupid.

And also Ariana’s from a “crazy” family which doesn’t seem to do anything that crazy other than dress as the Addams Family for profit, which sounds like hella fun to me. And sometimes they break the law, but I think Phillips is just trying to copy Jenny Crusie’s Dempseys and failing terribly. Anyway, as a result Ariana is completely straight-laced and lives far far far from her supposedly-weird family. They also own a monkey, whose name is Spank, which is only funny the first time, and yet Phillips calls the poor thing “Spank the Monkey” over and over again to jam it into our heads, in case we’re really as stupid as she believes us to be.

Ariana, though, has a perfectly lovely life in wherever-I-forget. She has friends, something she doesn’t actually make while she’s home reconnecting and not finding her sister (Maria doesn’t count) and sexing up the one guy who knows what’s going on but won’t tell her. I bet that in Ariana’s not-Jersey home, she passes Blechdel’s Law.

In every romance, there must be a subplot romance of a friend or relative of the main character. Phillips heard that once in a workshop or something. That’s why there are Maria and Connor. Connor’s undercover doing something like Quinn, but heck if I could tell you what, other than bartending. See, I guess bartenders are supposed to “hear things” or whatever, but Connor appears to just be a cardboard figure whose very reason for existing is to get behind Maria’s prickly shell. Except I don’t care. Connor has a presumably bad “track record with relationships,” but I have no idea what that means because I don’t think Phillips ever gets into it, except maybe Quinn’s thinking of Connor being a foster kid too? No clue. Connor and Quinn don’t pass whatever the guy version of Blechdel’s Law is either, because even when they’re talking about work they’re talking about the women there.

Hm, I think this slip of paper is there to remind me that Quinn is so stupid he accidentally refers to himself as a cop.

Next card (it’s green, not white, so by this point I’ve already shredded the first one to bits) is Ariana thinking of how her nice life has suddenly become “boring” compared to trying to not screw Quinn. Whee? Then she and her mom talk about Quinn too, because no one in this book can talk about anything else. But I was surprised once by this book—I mean, positively surprised. Instead of Quinn and Ariana adopting Sam, she gets adopted by Ariana’s parents.

Haha, the next slip of paper is the second use of “liquid” as Quinn and Ariana are making out.

Page 132, I guess they’ve had sex (I’m not looking back to find out) and he’s all “Your straight-laced life in Vermont is a cover for your sexy sexy” whatever I don’t care this is total crap. She can’t wear work clothes to work? She can’t feel sexy in modest clothing? Hold on, this comes up again later. Hey, and on the same page we have “wet kisses.” First I typed “wet pisses.” Same diff.

Slick tongues, pulsing groin. Blargh. Waves and waves of rapture, of course. We have a theme going here. (Edit before publishing: Is it because they’re at the BEACH? That’s almost clever!)

Then I guess his boss comes in and says that Quinn killed her sister or something, but she’s like “He couldn’t have! I know his True Self cuz we had The Sex!” Man, I wish Quinn were evil. That would at least make this book interesting. So finally he has to tell her he’s a cop. She’s not much of a psychologist, otherwise she never would’ve given it up until he told all.

I have no idea why this scrap is in here, except that Quinn’s inner dialogue is like “I can’t believe I told her I’m a cop.” (I want to put “cop” in quotes for how little he actually does.) “I am so serious about her.” Uh-huh. I am so seriously amazed I made it through this book the first time.

Ah! Then we find out that Ariana used to NOT be stuffy, until her boyfriend cheated on her or something? I don’t caaaaare. Obviously, she just needs hot sex and tight t-shirts to get her in touch with her “real” self.

Now she has two personalities. Okay, I know psych majors are always the most messed up people, but my God. This is just pathetic. It’s like Phillips looked up “cop” and “psychology” in one of my daughter’s Children’s Encyclopedias.

Quinn & Connor have another conversation that basically revolves around checking in with the Connor/Maria romance that no one cares about. Phillips pulls out the “Great Adventure” card to prove that she’s actually been to New Jersey once in her life. Oh, and even though Maria told Ariana about being a single parent the first time they spoke, Connor never heard about it till he showed up at her place, and Quinn is just finding out now halfway through the book. OH GOD, I’M ONLY HALFWAY?!?!?!

Another sex scene. “Moisture.” His, not hers. How much do I hate that blow jobs in books are like these amazingly sacred things that women so rarely do? Poor romance novel guys.

Quinn, to thank her for the sex I guess, decides to take Ariana to her sister, even though they’re at the very end of his undercover thing and he’s all like “Why am I doing this? Cuz I loooove her?” Blah. Not really sure at this point what’s going on—oh, I guess it’s Zoe, her sister, who tells her sister that she’s a fed. I’m not really sure how or why someone would sneak this past their family—cuz it seems like shame to me—but we’re supposed to buy it that Zoe managed to do all this stuff while she was supposedly “finding herself on a road trip” or something like that. Well, I guess it was either “fed” or “had a baby and gave it up for adoption,” eh, Phillips?

Then Zoe gives Ariana a speech about what a terrible person she is and how she doesn’t even know her sister cuz she never bothered to find out who her sister is. She just assumed her sister was a showgirl. Interesting, huh? I mean, I know what MY sister does for a living and I don’t live with her. But in this world, you can just assume a fed is a showgirl and all it does is make you an asshole.

Now, all through this there’s some sort of corruption at the casino and that’s what Quinn and Zoe were (separately) investigating. Good thing they live at the shore. But at no point do they tell Ariana to go back to Vermont and finish out the semester while they do their jobs. Nope, she gets put in the line of fire instead. In the meantime, Connor and Quinn, now no longer the hardened former foster kids but in-love adults, decide it’s time to do less undercover work.

Hey, on page 224 and 225 Ariana ACTUALLY sounds like a psychologist for once. But she ruins the effect on 228 by saying, “For a teenager, Sam said something so profound, it floored me. She said that since my parents always called Spank part of the family and they were giving her away [because it’s illegal to have a pet monkey, I guess], what if they gave her away next?” Seriously, you were FLOORED, Ariana? I hope you never read Plato. You might pee yourself again.

We’re getting toward the end, thank goodness. I think it’s a couple little things, a couple big things, and then it’s so very thankfully over. For one, Quinn gets all pissy because Ariana has a JOB that she HAS TO FINISH, God forbid. How dare she finish out the semester? How DARE she be THAT Ariana, the stuffy one? Ariana is worried that he will not accept that “part” of her.

I dunno. Am I a totally different person when I put on a nice dress to go to a wedding? When I’m not in a Hello Kitty t-shirt during a job interview? My God, this is an annoying book.

Then Ariana saves the day by acting out a movie. Ooookay. Let’s just skip that. It’s just horrible.

Then she says she was only acting like her sister to begin with, and the person she’s been with Quinn isn’t the person she really is. Who cares, you neurotic idiot with the personality of a wet (I SAID IT) paper bag?

Hm. It seems as if this book takes place over the course of a week. Are you kidding me? That doesn’t even make sense. Has Connor even had enough time to take Maria and her kid to Six Flags? (Which, by the way, we say more often than “Great Adventure” because it has less syllables.) Then Quinn and Connor have the Women? What can ya do? talk. God, guys, why don’t you go get your nails done or something? Don’t guys talk about anything else but girls? Don’t you people watch any TV? Read newspapers? This is my favorite quote in the whole book, by the way:

“You got a point, man. Maria is scared.”
Quinn looked at him as if he’d lost his mind. “Who’s talking about Maria?” he asked. “I’m telling you about Ari.”
Connor burst out laughing. So they were both lost in their own thoughts. [Thanks again, Phillips; I needed that spelled out for me.] “They’re both women, what’s the difference?”
Quinn laughed for the first time all night. “Apparently none.”

Apparently, there is no difference between women, did you know that?

Finally, we’re down to the last few pages, but I think there’s a scrap in each of them. (I seem to have passed a few as well, but that’s probably for the best.) Zoe tells Ariana that she’s crazy like a Costas, and Ariana tells Zoe that she’s “lost five years of [her] life living in Vermont.” WHAT THE FUCK?!?!?! Tell me I’m not the only person who thinks of this as fairly sick. Moving away from your family, getting a good job, making friends and having tea partiesand living your life is a waste??? I want to punch something all over again. No wonder I didn’t want to pick up the book again.

I sure hope it’s been longer than a week, because Connor’s practically proposing himself.

Single moms are so bitter until they find the right man, don’t you know?

Blah blah Quinn and Ariana being stupid. Quinn decides to make a big speech in front of her family instead of talking to her privately. I hate this book so much. Quinn had a Very Bad Childhood. I don’t care. Somewhere Ariana talks about how wearing sexy clothes made her feel like a person again or something. It’s all very anti-feminist. Needless to say, she moves home and everyone lives happily ever after except me, who feels more than a bit sick. I’m afraid to throw up, though. I’m assuming it would be as liquidy as the ocean or Ariana’s panties.

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