Thursday, October 30, 2014
Guest Book Review: Dirty Laundry
Are you a Rules girl? You know what I’m talking about. Dating rules. Strategic tricks for snagging Mr. McPerfect. Let’s see… Don’t call the guy. If he wants to talk, he’ll call you. Don’t be too available. Never accept a date unless you’re asked at least three days in advance. Let the man be the aggressor. Actually, no, let him think he’s the aggressor. Pretend you are hard-to-get, and go ahead, play some good old fashioned mind games. In 1995, Sherrie Schneider and Ellen Fein published the The Rules: Time-tested Secrets for Capturing the Heart of Mr. Right. The book generated strong reactions in the American public. Many readers were scandalized, finding the book’s guidelines sexist, antiquated, too rigid, flat-out ridiculous. Others were inspired, finally having their own how-to guide, a step by step manual on how to land their dreamboat. Seminars popped up across the nation, success stories were shared, and just like that, “Rules girls” were born.
Well my friends, Rachel Naples has given us a new kind of Rules girl with a brand new set of wacky, idiosyncratic, bass-ackward rules. In her new novel, Dirty Laundry, Naples presents Lucy Stars, a relationship expert with her own radio show, a platform where she provides advice to those searching for or struggling to keep their significant others. Lucy is in a great position to provide this advice since she herself is in such a wonderful, blissful relationship. Her husband, Kraft Conroy, is a life coach and also the man of her dreams. Married for ten years, living in a beautiful home, she and Kraft couldn’t be happier. Or so Lucy thinks.
The book opens as Lucy prepares to go on-air for her radio show, which she conveniently conducts from her very own kitchen. As she sets up her laptop and presses all the right buttons to go live, her husband Kraft walks into the kitchen and calmly announces, “I want a divorce.” Lucy is utterly stunned. Blindsided. Hadn’t seen this coming at all. She makes her shock and despair clear to Kraft as she demands answers. Kraft is calm and tight-lipped, simply asking Lucy to return her wedding ring before leaving for work. As one might expect, Lucy completely freaks out on him. Worse yet, poor Lucy is already on the air. Suddenly, this purported relationship expert has bared her soul live on the airwaves, showing her listeners that she may not be such an expert after all.
Kudos to her listeners though. People start calling in from everywhere, offering Lucy words of support and encouragement. Before she knows it, Lucy’s listeners are providing advice to her, instead of the other way around. Now Lucy is the student, and her listeners, the teachers. After letting the dust settle a bit, Lucy decides to make the most of her new situation. She will try to use her newfound independence to find herself a better match. Maybe Kraft wasn’t as perfect for her as she thought. Rather than finding someone who completes her (a la Jerry McGuire), she will look for someone who complements her, and she will take her listeners along for the entire journey.
As Lucy considers new men, she ruminates on all of the things about Kraft that she should have seen as warning signs about him from the beginning. For example, he never liked dogs. What Lucy wants to know is: What kind of a good guy doesn’t like dogs?! And so we get Rule #1. Any decent prospect must like dogs. Next problem. Kraft was always buying his toilet paper from Costco. This, Lucy decides, was obviously a red flag that she missed. If he’s cheap with himself, Lucy tells her listeners, he will always be cheap with you. Rule #2. No Costco TP. Kraft was also a little compulsive with hand sanitizer. Germaphobia, says Lucy, is just another symptom of emotional unavailability. Rule #3. No sanitizer. And so it happens that Lucy Stars begins creating her own list of dating rules for herself and her listeners.
As the story unfolds, Lucy becomes a media sensation, appearing on television and signing a book deal. Everyone wants more of the woman whose topsy turvy dating rules are catching on across the nation. Meanwhile, as she continues to share her dating adventures on air, listeners call in to give advice about which dates to accept and how to handle tricky situations. It’s only when Lucy meets a man that she really likes that she begins to question her hard and fast rules. This guy, who seems so great, doesn’t like dogs. He likes Costco toilet paper. Wants to split a pack of it with her! What is a self-respecting "Rules" girl to do?!?
Writing with a fast-paced, witty, and often slapstick prose, Naples shows Lucy trying on various guys for size. There is a fun-loving, self-deprecating, almost stream of consciousness tone to the writing that sucks the reader in and makes Lucy the most lovable of characters, despite her obvious flaws. Naples’ background in screenplays and TV writing is evident in the pages of her novel, as the scenes she depicts come off as perfect for the big screen, an adorable romantic comedy, ready to go.
Despite the obvious light-hearted beach-ready (and yes, predictable) nature of this story, there are clearly some deeper issues that Naples is tackling underneath all the fun. As Lucy navigates the treacherous world of post-divorce dating, she learns a lot about adapting that she passes on to her radio listeners, as well as to the readers. Through Lucy’s ridiculous dates, Naples conveys a story about transformation and personal growth that can resonate with anyone. There are always times in life when we need to take a step back and readjust our previous assumptions. We learn that the rules we were trying to live by are no longer the correct guidelines for our situation. Or even more revolutionary, perhaps the game we are playing simply has no rules at all. Whatever the answer, Rachel Naples will have you laughing your way through this heartwarming antidote to Jerry McGuire and the need for a mate to complete you.
Thanks to Rachel Naples for the book in exchange for an honest review.
Jacqueline Berkell Friedland is currently an MFA candidate at Sarah Lawrence College in Bronxville, New York, where she is studying fiction. She if a former attorney and law school professor. When she is not writing, Jacqueline can be found plowing through novels or chasing after her four young children.