One of the books that I've had trouble committing to is Looking for Mr. Goodfrog (hours after posting, it occurred to me that I might want to do a link for that. It's been a long week. I've turned off my brain). It looked like a nice, frothy read, so I started it earlier this week and ended up having successive aneurysms every time I picked it up to read a bit more.
The problem is that the main character is a complete and utter idiot. Singularly focused on her love life (or lack of success therein - that good old saying 'you have to kiss an awful lot of frogs before you find a prince'), she tells the stories of all the men/frogs she meets. We’ve all had our share of strange and entertaining dating stories, but it’s when she says things like “I only kissed frogs, but at least I was kissing” that I have to stop reading for a while until my blood pressure drops. I mean, kissing is one of my favourite things, but I’d rather not kiss than kiss ‘frogs’. But maybe that’s just me? Anyway, this woman keeps going on dates with men who have so many red flags they look like a May Day parade in Beijing. For instance:
She meets a man online - I've got nothing against online, I've met many of my dearest friends in cyberspace, plus dated some (frogs and non-) - and for the first time in a while, there’s a spark. They meet for drinks and things go very well, until she mentions family and he gets all distant and weird. Red flag number one, but who hasn't ignored one or two of these when under the influence of chemistry? He’d originally offered to treat her to a cab home, she said no (because he'd made a big deal out of liking ‘independent women’), but they’d such a good time that it got too late to take a bus and since she had no cash on her, she asked if she could change her mind about the previous offer (how many women do you know who go on a date without what one of my attendants calls 'vex money' - you stick $20 in your pocket so you can get a home on your own steam if things go sideways. Basic, right?) And he flips out, ranting about how he doesn't want to take care of someone else, accusing her of trying to manipulate him and storms out. She waits at the table for him (oh, fer fuck’s sake – I would so be gone) and he returns and pulls her outside on the sidewalk where she starts apologizing for "manipulating him" (I wanted to smack her) and then he says "it's done" (or something like that) and does that zipping the lip and turning the key gesture that is so infuriating and she drives home, feeling crappy about herself. And then, THEN! The next chapter opens with her waking up in his arms a few days later and they have a relationship that not surprisingly seriously messes with her self-esteem.
OK, so I could understand if this woman was younger, still learning how to spot the red flags - that ability only develops with exposure and practice. But she is single, never married, and in her mid-40s! I really don't believe in blaming the victim - there's way too much of that targeted at women - but this supposedly smart woman is giving smart women in their 40s a bad name. If you’ve been single and dating for a number of years and have been paying even the teensiest bit of attention, you bloody well learn to spot the major red flags and run screaming for the hills when they start wafting in the breeze, regardless of how long it’s been since you last got laid.
Halfway through the book I kept wondering why I was continuing, as this was so very clearly an example of a book that, in the immortal words of Dorothy Parker, should not be put aside, but should be hurled with great force. Aside from what’s apparently an out-of-control need to complete things, I was also vaguely (OK, fervently) hoping that the last half of the book would take us somewhere worthwhile - that maybe she'll find out that although having a partner is wonderful, your life doesn't automatically suck if you don't. Or maybe she’d start being able to spot the good ones, instead of go fishing in the frog pond (I know the knitters out there are laughing now) . And then it changed... About halfway in, there’s a section about her visiting her mother in Florida that just sings with truth and beauty and made me turn green with envy at her ability to convey human relationships. After that, it got sort of autobiographical and how-to and then there were long stretches of really good thoughts about relationships and men and women and… who knows where it’s going next (I have about a quarter left).
I've come to the conclusion that this is a “creative non-fiction” type of book. Clearly based on her own experiences, I suspect the first half, which in the book lasts a year, is probably is a condensed version of her younger years – the leap in personal growth is just too abrupt, taking her from 30 (max) to 45 in the blink of an eye. And it left me feeling sad. The concept’s good and there are moments where you can see just how brilliant a writer she could be, if only someone would have asked for another rewrite. Y’know, just tighten it up a bit, smooth the uneven bits – shine, woman, shine! (and get a better editor)
Anyway, I’m hoping to end the week with a lively discussion of frog stories in the comments. I’ll start with my favourite: met a guy online who once he heard I use a wheelchair told me that he wasn’t interested because he wanted “an equal partner”. As I was fuzzy on how the chair made me less in this context, I pressed for details and he said “y’know, someone who can help me paint the house. And stuff”. Oh, yeah. Because that’s the cornerstone of a relationship, ain’t it?