Saturday, December 08, 2007

Chill Out, Josey, by Susan May Warren

I wanted to like this book, I really did, though it was supposed to be a romance novel, and I'm not in love with that genre because of the plethora of poorly written books that populate it.
Still, when Chill Out, Josey turned out to be a chick it-Christian romance hybrid, I did not immediately don a Haz-Mat suit and run for the recycle bin. I was willing to give Warren the benefit of the doubt and read through her book, which is the sequel, I gather, to a book about her heroine's first journey to Russia as a missionary. During the first book, we are told, the protagonist falls in love with Chase Anderson, gets married and moves back to the US, hoping to lead a boring, ordinary life.
Josey Berglund Anderson is a Minnesota native who, after a somewhat disaster-ridden wedding, discovers that her husband has found a job in Moscow with WorldMar, a company whose goal is to help poor villagers in Russia build sustainable industries so they'll have consistent employment. Josie, meanwhile, finds out that she is pregnant, but doesn't want to tell her husband because she fears he will not fulfill his dream of producing Russian industries and she will not become the perfect "Proverbs 31" wife.
My main problem with the book is that Josie is a blonde bimbo with all the brain power of a fig newton. She isn't heroic, humble, funny or interesting. She's also stereotypically obsessed with her weight and the weight/dress size of every woman she meets, whom she judges according to their looks. She judges all the men according to their looks as well, unfortunately, and is spiteful and cruel in her nicknames and treatment of them. Apparently, women in Russia under retirement age are all a size 2, dress like sleazy hookers and have roughly the same morals. Shallow and vain Josie reacts with melodramatic fear/jealousy toward all of the women who work with her husband at WorldMar, assuming the worst of them because she perceives them as better looking and thinner than herself, and therefore assumes that her husband has no self control, loyalty or morals at all, and will be bedding one of them at his earliest opportunity. Her days consist of shopping and obsessing about her weight and keeping her secret from her husband. It would seem Josie's mother never explained to her that women do get "fat" when they become pregnant, and that it is perfectly normal to be bigger because you are growing another human being. But poor Josie can't dress like she wants to and is therefore mean to her husband, who is as hapless, spineless and stupid as his wife...but he's blonde and gorgeous, so we're supposed to think him wonderful anyway.
Though she can't cook, Josie comes up with an idea to make peanut butter as a cottage industry for the Russians, and, because she's volunteering at an orphanage, she is also committed to saving her Russian maid's son from adoption by wealthy Americans. Josie's got a rather dim view of wealthy Americans, though she is one of them, with her constant shoe/designer clothing shopping and her adoration of caviar and having a maid to do all her cooking and cleaning for her (and since when is it okay for pregnant women to eat RAW fish eggs? I was told by my ob/gyn when I was pregnant that it was dangerous to eat sushi or any raw fish, eggs or meat because of the likelihood of worms or bacteria infecting the food and then infecting your fetus.) Throughout her bungling attempts to achieve these goals, Josie keeps up the patter about her wonderful self, how noble and fabulous a wife and person that she is, how perfect she is going to make her marriage and her life once she gets back to the US, and how important God and prayer are to her. Yeah, right. Josie wasn't the least bit sincere or mature in her approach to religion, and her nauseating egotism and size/looks prejudices made her seem less Christian wife than snobbish cheerleader. She is ready to throw in the towel on her marriage several times during the book merely because her husband gets home late from his new job and doesn't dote on her every word and movement. Josie is actually thrilled when a friends girlfriend, Daphne, asks to be mentored in "submission" to her boyfriend, so that she, too, might become the 'perfect, noble' Biblical wife. Gag. Josie seems to want to set the cause of feminism and equality back 50 years. She even faints when she goes in for the regulation HIV test before departing for Russia, merely because she makes all sorts of ridiculous assumptions about her husband's past, without any evidence to back them up. She couldn't just ask the man if he slept around, oh no, that would be too normal, too direct and smart. Josie shows little courage or character in anything she does, blaming all her faults and problems on others, and expecting to be bailed out of one bad situation after another by the very people she's jealous of or accusing of adultery (namely her sister and her husband). There's precious little romance in this romance novel, and it doesn't enlighten, entertain or inform much, either, which, in addition to good storytelling and excellent prose, are my criteria for enjoying a book.
I think that the Mormon mothers book group that I belonged to, albeit briefly, would have enjoyed this book, as they were mostly women who believed that submitting to their husbands and having babies were all a woman was meant to accomplish, unless she was doing missionary work, which amounts to foisting off one's religious beliefs on others, while denigrating their beliefs and culture as bad or false.
I just can't think of anyone else who would want to waste their time reading this book, filled with rambling first person prose and shallow, brainless characters.

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