(Reviewed by Shannon Bloomstran AUG 26, 2002)Back in the olden days when I was in college, I lived in a sorority house. Every so often, the cook would serve a dessert called "Air and Dirt." It was Oreo cookies folded into whipped cream. It was the stuff of legends, seniors told stories about a huge food fight in which Air and Dirt played a major role. Reading Jennifer Crusie's latest romance, Faking It had me harkening back to those thrilling days of yesteryear since that's what Faking It pretty much is; air and dirt.
I've never been a fan of the romance novel, they always seemed so predictable, and let's face it, poorly written. According to her Web site, Crusie is an accomplished romance writer, but while Faking It can be classified broadly as a romance novel, it's definitely not poorly written. It is predictable, but depending on your mood, that's not necessarily a bad thing.
Our fair heroine is Tilda Goodnight, mural artist and youngest daughter of the eccentric Goodnight clan, proprietors of a once grand eponymous art gallery in Columbus, Ohio. Crusie doesn't waste any time introducing characters. I needed a scorecard to keep track. They all seem to have two or three names, or in the case of Tilda's sister, Eve, two personalities. Tilda, a muralist, is the main source of support for her wacky family, who it seems, has a penchant for art forgery. Tilda's niece mistakenly sells a forged painting and Tilda must steal it back from the customer. In the process, Tilda literally stumbles onto Davy Dempsey, a con man with a heart of gold. While they recover several other forged paintings, Tilda and Davy solve the murder of a wealthy art patron, resolve various family issues, care for a wily dachshund named Steve, and help her mother, sister, and niece all find true love. Since this is a romance novel, they also do various and sundry other things, which I will leave to your imagination. Don't get too excited about those other things, they're tasteful.
One of the novel's strengths is that Crusie gives her characters great snappy dialogue. They even think in witty repartee, throwing off movie quotes as if they were weather predictions. The plot, at times, seems a mere backdrop to the sparkling dialogue. Crusie does have a bad habit of overusing adverbs, at one point a character responds "a little insanely." Is that possible, the reviewer asks quizzically? But the crisp and funny dialogue makes it easy to overlook the overuse. The ending, however, is definitely predictable. Even readers who are not fans of "Law and Order" should be able to see the "twists" coming a mile away. Crusie has never portrayed herself as a mystery writer, but next time, she would do well to paint the clues with a lighter hand.
The novel suffers, in my feminist eyes, from a little bit of the "helpless female" syndrome. Tilda's emotional, artistic, financial, and sexual issues are all solved once she gives up and lets Davy into her life. That said, Tilda, her mother Gwen, her sister Eve, and her niece, Nadine are all strong and funny characters. Crusie does try to give her heroines some teeth, literally in one case since it's a frequent motif in Gwen's art and it is all girls at the gallery. Tilda's father is dead and her brother in law is gay. Gwen has raised her daughters on a steady diet of girl singers like Pippy Shannon and the Paris Sisters for heaven's sake. Nadine explains their philosophy to Davy.
"According to Grandma, there are two kinds of men in the world, doughnuts and muffins."
. . ."Doughnuts are the guys that make you drool. . .they're gorgeous and crispy and covered with chocolate icing and you see one and you have to have it ..."
Davy said, "So doughnuts are good."
"Well, yeah, for one night," Nadine said. . .You can't keep a doughnut overnight."
"Ah," Davy said. "But a muffin-"
"Is actually better the next day," Nadine finished. "Muffins are for the long haul and they always taste good. They don't have that oh-my-God-I-have-to-have-that thing that the doughnuts have going for them, but you still want them the next morning."
For all their wisecracking girl power, all the women secretly pine for the love of a good man to set them straight.
I liked Tilda, Nadine, and the rest, but I just wished their path to self-actualization hadn't been dependent on the men in their lives. But that would make it an entirely different novel. I suppose depending on your taste, when you finish "Faking It you'll either trot to your local Krispy Kreme outlet or search www.epicurious.com for the latest muffin recipe. Or if you're in Lawrence, Kansas, head over to the Sigma Kappa house for some Air and Dirt.
- Amazon readers rating: from 166 reviews
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Bibliography: (with links to Amazon.com)
- Manhunting (1993)
- Getting Rid of Bradley (1994)
- What the Lady Wants (1995)
- The Cinderella Deal (1996; January 2010)
- Tell Me Lies (1998)
- Crazy For You (1999)
- Welcome to Temptation (2000)
- Fast Women (2001)
- Faking It (2002)
- Bet Me (2004)
- Charlie All Night (2004)
- Anyone But You (2006)
- Maybe This Time (2010)
- Trust Me On This (2010)
- The Cinderella Deal (2011)
With Bob Mayer:
With Eileen Dreyer and Anne Stuart
- The Unfortunate Miss Fortunes (June 2007)
With Anne Stuart and Lani Diane Rich
- Dogs and Goddesses (February 2009)
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- The official Web site for Jennifer Crusie
- The Romance Reader review of Tell Me Lies
- The Romance Reader review of Welcome to Temptation
- Curled Up reivew of Welcome to Temptation
- Books For a Buck review of Fast Women
- Curled Up review of Bet Me
- BookReporter.com review of Bet Me
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About the Author:
Jenny Crusie (Smith) was born in 1949 and grew up in a small Ohio town on the banks of the Auglaize River. She graduated from high school in 1967 and earned her bachelor's degree from Bowling Green State University in Art Education in 1973. She married in 1971 and lived briefly in Wichita Falls, Texas, until her husband was transferred to Dayton, Ohio for the Air Force.
Jenny taught preschool until her daughter, Mollie, was born in 1975. When she returned to work, she taught in the Beavercreek public school system for ten years as an elementary and junior high art teacher while earning a master's degree from Wright State in Professional Writing and Women's Literature. She took a leave of absence in 1986 to complete her Ph.D. coursework at Ohio State University, and then returned to teach high school English in Beavercreek for another five years; during this time she also directed theater tech crews for the Beavercreek Drama Department.
But in the summer of 1991, having discovered the power of romance novels as part of her dissertation research, she decided to try writing fiction. She quit her job the following spring to devote herself full time to writing and to finishing the Ph.D. She sold her first book to Silhouette in 1992. Subsequently, she published ten more novels with Harlequin. Her third romance novel, Getting Rid of Bradley, won a Rita award. Her trademark early on was humor in her in romance novels.
She left Harlequin in 1995 to write romance novels for Bantam and single title novels for St. Martin's Press. In 1996, she was awarded a Career Achievement Award in Romantic Comedy by Romantic Times Magazine. Her first three hardcover novels from St. Martin's, were all voted into RWA's Top Ten Favorite books of the year, Crazy for You was nominated for the 1999 Rita Award, Welcome to Temptation was also chosen as one of Amazon.com's top ten romances of 2000, and Fast Women was one of Border's top ten romances of 2001.
After living in Beavercreek for twenty-one years, she moved to southern Ohio to finish her MFA in fiction in June 1997. Crusie is currently ABD in the Ph.D. program at Ohio State University with concentrations in nineteenth century British and American literature and in women's literature.