This novel got a bunch of literary awards when it came out in 2004. Look at the list:
All About Romance (AAR) – Annual Readers’ Poll
• Best Romance of the Year
• Best Contemporary Romance
• Funniest Romance
• Best Heroine
• Best Chick Lit
• Best Couple
RITA® Award by Romance Writers of America for Best Contemporary Single Title Romance
Readers Anonymous (RRA) Award for Best Romance of the Year
In this hilarious and poignant love story, every romance trope is turned upside down. Instead of a slender young beauty as the heroine, we get Min, an overweight actuary over thirty. She is snarky and smart and loving but she hides self-disgust behind her sass. Instead of an alpha male with a black belt, we get Cal, a thirty-plus man with dyslexia. He can charm a turtle out of its shell, and a countless women into his bed, but his charm is a camouflage for the profound insecurity. Both protagonists have one thing in common: their mothers humiliate them repeatedly and with uncommon zest, giving truth to the expression “a mother from hell.”
Jennifer Crusie always creates original characters, and this book is no exceptions. As many other romances, it’s structured according to the standard formula: boy meets girl, they dislike and distrust each other on sight, they overcome obstacles and get to know each other, they fall in love – and bingo, the happily ever after.
This surface similarity with the other romance novels is only a blueprint. The author explores much deeper themes here. Of course, her protagonists fall in love, and the process is fairly straightforward, common for romance novels. They also follow the torturous, zigzagging and backtracking path towards self-esteem, and that mode is not so common. It adds nuances and makes the story infinitely richer.
Throughout the novel, Min and Cal learn not only to love each other but also to love and accept themselves. To their amazement, they discover that the best way to do that is to look through the other’s eyes. Their perpetual verbal sparing is just a fun-flavored spice for the real treat of this book – a lesson in believing.
Cal teaches Min to believe in her true self: not a fat and ugly broad, a subject for severe dieting, but a lush and opulent sex goddess, a compassionate and giving woman. Min repays Cal with the same coin. While for him, his dyslexia is a shameful secret, for her, he is a hero. He overcame a learning disability, started his own business, and the business is thriving. Woe to anyone who dares to slight his achievements, including himself.
Their banter and witty repartees are a smoke screen, as both are afraid to admit their attraction. The attraction grows into love, while the readers laugh helplessly at their wisecracks. The antagonists help along as they bumble about, their evil deeds bringing the heroes closer with each setback, soliciting more smiles from the readers.
Another unusual facet of this story is friendship. The cast of six important characters includes Min with her two girlfriends and Cal with his two buddies. Each one of the six is different, with a distinct personality and unforgettable quirks. Together, they contribute to a comic collective that could induce laughter even in a terminally morose. I read about their escapades and giggled. And I also thought: I want friends like that too.
The plot is fast and off-beat; the dialog – wickedly engaging, and the sex utterly delicious. Crusie recently wrote a post on her blog about writing sex scenes. The gist of the post: a sex scene must move the plot or contribute to the character development. Her one and only sex scene in the book, the denouement, does both, but the entire book serves as foreplay. The sexual tension sizzles on the pages almost from the start.
This re-read was a perfect romance. Although I’ve read it before, at least a couple times, it hasn’t lost even an iota of its enchanting allure.