Friday 7 July 2023

CBR15 Book 25: "Funny You Should Ask" by Elissa Sussman

Page count: 352 pages
Rating: 3 stars

#CBR15 Passport Challenge: Books I Already Own

15-word review: Chani reunites with actor Gabe, the man she wrote about ten years ago. Sparks fly.

Official book summary:
Then. Twentysomething writer Chani Horowitz is stuck. While her former MFA classmates are nabbing book deals, she's in the trenches writing puff pieces. Then she's hired to write a profile of movie star Gabe Parker. The Gabe Parker--her forever celebrity crush, the object of her fantasies, the background photo on her phone--who's also just been cast as the new James Bond. It's terrifying and thrilling all at once... yet if she can keep her cool and nail the piece, it could be a huge win. Gabe will get good press, and her career will skyrocket. But what comes next proves to be life-changing in ways Chani never saw coming, as the interview turns into a whirlwind weekend that has the tabloids buzzing.

Now. Ten years later, after a brutal divorce and a heavy dose of therapy, Chani is back in Los Angeles, laser-focused on one thing: her work. But she's still spent the better part of the last decade getting asked about her deeply personal Gabe Parker profile at every turn. No matter what new essay collection or viral editorial she's promoting, it always comes back to Gabe. So when his PR team requests that they reunite for a second interview, she wants to say no. She wants to pretend that she's forgotten about the time they spent together, years ago. But the truth is that those seventy-two hours are still crystal clear, etched in her memory. And so... he says yes.

Chani knows that facing Gabe again also means facing feelings she's tried so hard to push away. Alternating between their first meeting and their reunion a decade later, this deliciously irresistible novel will have you hanging on until the last word.

Ok, so first of all, this is not a "deliciously irresistible novel", it's a fairly forgettable run-of-the-mill contemporary romance. The only thing that makes it in any way different from a lot of books, is the dual timelines, where the past sections of the story are told in flashbacks, and even that isn't exactly unusual in the genre. Emily Henry has used it in two of her contemporary romances, for instance. This book is fine. Nothing is offensively bad, it's competently enough written, but it certainly didn't deserve to be on multiple 'Best of 2022' lists. That certainly gave me expectations for something more special than what I got.

Chani is not a particularly engaging heroine. She's insecure, and constantly questions her success as a writer. Based on the writing samples from her famous feature article and her blog (which are included in between the various chapters), I will admit that it seems unlikely that this woman got three different essay collections in the space of ten years. I also question whatever editor gave her the writing job that made her famous in the first place - why would you send a writer who hadn't ever seen a Bond movie to write about the new up-and-coming star who will be the next Bond? 

There's also the issue here that the romance is not very convincing to me. Chani spends three days with Gabe ten years ago, meets him a few times in the intervening years when her marriage is in trouble, before she's asked to write a follow-up article about him, and reluctantly agrees. She spends another three days with him or so, and then is apparently convinced that he is her one true love. I could maybe have believed how quickly Gabe persuades her that they are meant to be, if the two of them had had any kind of communication in the interim. If the interludes between chapters hadn't just been article and essay samples of Chani's work, but some letters, e-mails, or text messages exchanged between the two to show that they were actually getting to know one another better. 

I love a romance based on correspondence, there is something incredibly romantic to me about a person falling in love with someone else based on their letters - possibly because some of the most meaningful friendships in my life were strengthened by years of correspondence (yes, I'm old, I grew up in the years before mobile phones and the internet. We wrote actual multi-page letters to one another instead). But no, we are just told that Chani and Gabe have been thinking and pining about the other for the whole decade, making no attempt to contact the other. 

The book was a fairly fast and easy read, and the dual timelines made it a bit of a mystery what happened in the past that potentially caused a rift between them. Neither Gabe nor Chani were especially memorable characters. Now, three months after reading the book (yes, I'm super behind on my reviews), the character I remember best is Oliver Mathias, Gabe's best friend. He was charming and interesting and I would frankly have preferred to read a novel where he was the hero and eventually found his happily ever after.

I've heard that Elissa Sussman's follow-up to this is a bit of a disappointment to fans. Considering this didn't do much to stick in my mind, I doubt I'll be reading it. The book did make me want to watch The Philadelphia Story, though. So I guess there's that. 

Judging a Book by Its Cover: Not really fond of the combination of pepto-bismol pink and bright red on the cover, and the cartoony style of the cover art is less appealing to me than many contemporary romances. I guess it stands out on a shelf or on a bookstore display table, but in this case, the book actually could get judged by its cover. Bit disappointing all around. 

Crossposted on Cannonball Read

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