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Rereading Jenny: Charlie All Night

January 8, 2014

[Spotlights probably contain spoilers; let’s not fool ourselves.]

Where do I start?

With Allie, the driven radio producer who instead of letting her career keep her from men, has decided to merge them?

Charlie, the sexy-but-not-traditionally-handsome (she says he looks like a “thug” on the first page) guy who only says sexist things like once or twice to rile her up and never made me want to wretch the way Mitch did?

Sam, the puppy the size of a Twinkie that may not live?  (AWWW)  Because there are pretty much dogs forever from now on?

The oral-sex-to-orgasm thing, again?

The sorta-mystery?

The fact that everyone knows Charlie is leaving and no one knows WHERE or WHY or what he usually does with his life and no one ever asks?

The fact that I forgot to mention this before but there are a LOT of unnecessary commas in this woman’s work?

Some new stuff: woman on top, a lead who may have never had an orgasm with a partner before, the bff being a gay guy instead of a chick.

I really love Charlie All Night.  Maybe it’s because I was predisposed to loving it by having fallen in love with a Harlequin about radio DJs, plus years of watching Frasier, plus a childhood adoration of all things Howard Hesseman, including Clue, Head of the Class, and, of course, WKRP in Cincinnati?  Or maybe it’s just a good romance.

Charlie is a drifting kind of a guy with a strong sense of right and wrong, and he’s fed up with his powerful father manipulating the system.  So when his dad asks him to check up on a friend’s radio station, under his former-DJ-brother’s name…look, I’m wording this all wrong.  Unlike What the Lady Wants, the mystery is completely secondary to everyone’s goals but Charlie’s, and unfolds nicely but slowly.  We don’t even know what’s going on with that the first 100 or so pages, but we’re given enough info we’re not floundering but not so much we’re drowning in it.  Instead, Crusie focuses on her characters and lets Charlie (and us, if we’re clever) piece together the mystery.

Allie is a radio producer (think Roz in Frasier) who took her ex, Mark, to a good level of popularity and talent from pretty much nothing.  But Mark was a crappy boyfriend, and he dumped her for Lisa, ten years younger but a good person and as driven as Allie.  There’s no bitterness between Allie and Lisa.  However, the same cannot be said of Mark, who is terrified that without Allie he’ll be nothing again.

There’s a thing in romance, whether romcoms or novels, that I like to call Damn the Ex.  You’ve seen it a million times–you’ve got a woman who’s stuck between two guys (whether romantically stuck between both or was romantically involved with one and falls for another) and one inevitably shows UNDENIABLE PROOF that he’s the wrong guy.  In one of my Harlequins, the guy just becomes more and more of an ass as his fiancee starts hanging out with her obviously-still-interested ex, which–can you blame the guy?  But since he doesn’t have the patience of a saint, he’s obviously a Bad Guy and gets dumped.  He’s also not rich.  But this was the late ’80s, so.

I don’t like Damn the Ex.  It perpetuates the idea that you can’t legitimately be interested in two people at a time, because one is Just Right and the other just kinda maybe fooled you or something stupid like that.  So you just need to give it enough time to figure out which one is going to break first and therefore not be patient enough or whatever.  Ugh.

Crusie never plays Damn the Ex that I remember, although it might seem that way from the outside.  Mark is a jerk from the get-go.  There’s never any indication that Allie is going to get back with him, because he’s awful.  And everyone knows he’s awful.  Even Lisa is pretty sure he’s awful.  And while, like a Damned Ex, he gets more and more petty as the book goes on, it doesn’t matter.  He’s meaningless to Allie and the book constantly keeps that going.

I love this because it subverts the idea that we’ll always love blah blah blah.  People screw up.  Allie saw a way to merge her love life with her work life and she took it because she loved her work and she loves to manage people.  But she saw that it didn’t work and she moved on.

In the first scene, she hits on Charlie–badly–in an attempt to convince Mark she’s on got a dinner date and is too busy for him.  Which is sort of true.  It’s just that her dinner date, her bff, is late, so she flirts with Charlie, finding out a moment later that he is actually her new on-air talent.  A romance cliche, sure?  The book has a few of them, but they’re played out in interesting ways.  Allie does pick up Charlie, and they do end up having sex that night, not getting into a “relationship” until the very end of the book, which is fairly refreshing.  I know there are a lot of one-night-stand-becomes-more books nowadays, but back then?  I don’t THINK so, though I could be wrong.  There’s also “the bet,” where Charlie and Allie stop having sex for a large part of the book.  The bet kinda falls to the wayside though, as they realize how much they love each other, rather than just like and are attracted to one another.  I wonder if this was in response to how quickly other Crusie heroines have fallen into bed with their partners?

But Charlie and Allie do couple things and talk and are comfortable with one another, and feel that they’re friends with benefits before the expression existed.  Except Allie isn’t the type for that; she falls hard, and Charlie does too, thankfully, and there’s part of your book.

The other part is the mystery, the one Charlie’s there to solve.  As I said, the pieces are there, and they’re good pieces.  This isn’t a detective story like What the Lady Wants, but it resolves well and, frankly, in a much more interesting way than that story.  The best mysteries are the simplest, I guess.

Oh, and covers.  They’re all pretty terrible, although at least the one I read had Chinese food on the cover, which is a big part of the book:

charlie2

I think I also own the original Harlequin Temptation, although I never touch the old ones, and that cover’s generic but so were all the Temptations, working hard to get the hair colors right and not much else:

charlie3

That doesn’t even look anything like what I’d think Allie looks like.  She’s supposed to be so…’90s!  With glasses!

Next up: ANYONE BUT FRED.

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