Bet Me by Jennifer Crusie

[rating=5] Minerva Dobbs might be my favorite romance heroine, and I do not type those words lightly. Sure, she has flaws, but her dialogue is to die for and she contains facets of all of my best friends in their best moments.

At regular intervals, ‘Bet Me’ delivers scenes that –in real life– would end in awkward silence, chagrin and later regret. Here? They end in pithy triumph! You know when you have those…

  • Delicate flirty exchanges where you’re dying to come up with the perfect witty riposte that will charm and beguile?
  • Catty girl-fights where you want to verbally slap a bitch?
  • Angry dinners with your parents, or your boyfriend’s parents, where ancient scars and old embarrassments are ripped open and exposed in a totally inappropriate venue and you just sit there mute and woebegone?

TONGUE TIED NEVER APPLIES TO MIN DOBBS. That woman *always* has the right comeback at hand, bless her. You’re watching a series of ideal conversations unfold, and you just get to sit back, cheer and shake your pom-poms. Or (if you’re me) read the dialogue aloud just to feel the satisfaction of your mouth delivering a damn fine set-down.

This is delectable, re-readable, dreamy chick lit. Like Marian Keyes, it surpasses the boundaries of its genre while reveling in the strange rituals of dating and group bonding that embody a social comedy.

I’ll admit, there are some awkward moments. A slight excess of creepy psychoanalysis and theorizing about human relationships as chaos theory from the supporting characters. An unhealthy obsession with chicken marsala. Many doughnuts are consumed in the course of the tale.

And if you read romances for steamy sex scenes, please walk right on by. Sex shows up predictably late in this story and the act of seduction itself did not knock my socks off. It’s all about the brain stimulation here, about finding a mate who can match your intellect and make you feel at home in your own skin. It’s soul mates and kisses, not P in V.

I enjoyed this book immensely. Crusie did a great job of taking a jaded angle that I usually hate (using a bet to keep H/H apart, ugh) and remade it into a bearable and functional plot device. She took the unpopular route of having a plus-sized heroine, explored some of the pressures and neuroses that made her overeat (hello, mommy) and did not pull a Keyes and magically melt off the pounds with a wasting disease or clinical depression. No! She left Minerva pleasantly plump until the conclusion and gave her a passionate entanglement with a man who loves her curves and defends her sexiness to any and all detractors. Bravo!

Too many romances adhere slavishly to the established tropes of the genre. Crusie defies expectations by giving life to her entire ensemble: Bringing in bitchy parents and lovestruck nephews, evil bridesmaids, stray cats, snow globes, evil exes, Italian chefs and lesbian bartenders as needed to move her story forward. In this book, it takes a village to get two stubborn lovers together, and it’s a joy to watch it happen.

Looking for romance in all the wrong places? Try these instead…

1) Marian Keyes’s ‘Lucy Sullivan is Getting Married’

2) Helen Fielding’s ‘Bridget Jones’ Diary’

3) LaVyrle Spencer’s ‘The Gamble’

4) Julia Quinn’s ‘What Happens In London’

5 of 5 stars / bookshelves: read, romance, comedy, 391 pages, Publisher: St. Martin’s Paperbacks (2004)
Read from September 5 to 8, 2012

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