Monday, February 3, 2014

Book Review: Romance is My Day Job

By Jami Deise

If you’ve been paying close attention to my reviews, you may have noticed an occasional reference to a soap opera or two. That’s because, starting in elementary school and lasting through college, I was obsessed with them. And since these were, for the most part, the days before VCRs and DVRs and SoapNet and the Internet, if you missed that 3:00 p.m. viewing, it was gone forever. I spent several years arranging my schedule around General Hospital. That is, until my own life – my love life, anyway – starting resembling a soap opera of my own. And that made me wonder – would my dating life have been more “normal” had my obsession with soaps not geared me to expect Friday cliffhangers, strange twists and turns, and bizarre love triangles?

The same affliction may have affected Patience Bloom, an editor for Harlequin books who became addicted to the romance genre around the same time I was making plans to move to Port Charles. Her memoir, Romance is My Day Job, chronicles a lifetime of bad relationships with the wrong men, starting with asking the wrong guy to the Sadie Hawkins dance at her boarding school. She intersperses her recollections with examples of standard character types and story structure from romance novels. Why don’t the men in Patience’s life act the way romance heroes do? Has her addiction set her up for a lifetime of dashed expectations?

Or maybe it’s the other ordeals in Patience’s life that keep her from having a long-lasting, working romantic relationship with a decent guy. Her parents’ divorce. Her father’s inexplicable rejection. And a traumatic incident soon after she graduates Oberlin College that she chooses to reveal only near the end of the book.
While this is not the best-written memoir I’ve ever read – too often Patience “tells” and summarizes events and relationships rather than “showing” them through detailed scene work – she is such a likeable person that I happily kept reading, rooting for her to get that Harlequin ending. A true child of the 1980s, and a huge Duran Duran fan, Patience is the best friend we all had in high school; the girl with whom we watched Love Boat on Saturday nights and wondered whether Julie should get together with Doc or Gopher. When she talks about a boyfriend who’d rather go for a hike than stay inside and watch romantic comedies, I want to volunteer to watch those movies with her.

Along with the stories of the various guys of the year (and the years there were no guys), Patience describes the trajectory of her career. She spent several years as a French teacher at a private school in New Mexico, returning home to the New York area even though her long-distance relationship with a New Yorker had just ended. She took a series of temp jobs, one of which landed her at Harlequin, where she read and evaluated manuscripts from the slush pile. It’s a dream job for a romance lover, and the powers that be at Harlequin quickly recognized her skills. She was hired, and has been moving up the ladder there ever since. As someone who’s been toiling in similar trenches, this part of Patience’s story, for me, read just like a fairy tale ending. And I wish Patience had spent a little more time describing her job and what she looks for in a manuscript, but I understand that wasn’t the point of the book.

While Romance is My Day Job is a memoir rather than a novel, it should appeal to readers who love chick lit and women’s fiction. Romance readers, however, may be disappointed at its lack of a traditional studly male hero. Ironically, as much as I loved soap operas, I never got into the romance genre – the obstacles the would-be lovers faced just weren’t melodramatic enough for me. Reading Patience’s book made me wish that I had been a fan – if, for no other reason, because Harlequin sounds like a terrific place to work, and Patience a wonderful colleague.

Thanks to Penguin (Dutton Publicity) for the book in exchange for an honest review. Check out the book trailer!

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1 comment:

Allison Smith said...

Jamie, I love this review. Sounds like a book I'd love.

Oh...I can so relate to the General Hospital thing!