Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Manhunting by Jennifer Crusie

Tom Selleck, back in the day, was a babe. No one's going to argue that point. In the early 80's, he did for hairy chests and moustaches what vintage Bruce Willis did for receding hairlines and lipless smirks. But while most of those traits continued to echo as pseudo-sexy through pop culture from that point forward (and continued to echo through my personal life as I aged and started getting involved with men lacking lips and a full head of hair), the moustache remains a signifier of days-gone-by, porn stars, and gay men.

Jennifer Crusie's book, Manhunting, a recent reissue first published in 1993, offers an affable love interest in Jake Templeton, a man who is refreshingly low-key compared to heroine Kate Svenson's high-anxiety superficiality. He's a man's man, at least at first; a lawnmowing, beer-swilling, afternoon-napping hunk of a man with one fatal flaw. He's got a moustache. A big fuzzy Wyatt Earp-sized one. And somehow, through all of her hemming and hawing about whether or not Jake is her "type," Kate never seems to weigh that in the balance. And she weighs just about everything else. Odd.

Thrice engaged but finicky Kate is a daughter of a tycoon, set to inherit the whole kit and kaboodle of his empire. But her biological-- or certainly her marital-- clock is a-ticking. Challenged by her best friend to make a plan to find a man, she books a trip to a rustic-upscale Kentucky golf lodge that sounds more like Club Med (luaus and karaoke) than your usual staid corporate resort. Mr. Kate needs to be rich, handsome, liberated, ambitious, well-coiffed-- everything Jake, the groundskeeper of the Cabin Resort, is not.

Of course, in the long run, Jake isn't who he seems to be. Ambition takes a back seat to love. Priorities are reorganized and people meet each other halfway. It wouldn't be a romance novel, otherwise.

Crusie is always good for a laugh or two. Her fast-paced and witty prose allows you to zip through her books at a satisfying rate. I've taken a few classes from her, and she's a super-tough cookie. And most of her heroines are super-tough cookies too. Kate, not so much. Min Dobbs of Bet Me or Tilda Goodnight of Faking It are much more compelling characters than Kate Svenson.

In the introduction to this reissue (which begins memorably: "Fifteen years ago, I decided to write a romance novel. I was twelve. Okay, I was forty-one, but I was young at heart. ") Crusie expresses her sentimental love for the book; it clearly tickles her. But she also identifies the book as flawed. And it is. But it surfs by so quickly that you hardly notice. Although it's impossible not to notice the prairie dog under Jake's nose-- gives me the willies, it does.

Note: Crusie has a fantastic website and a strong fan base. You can visit both here.

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