Susan Elizabeth Phillips’ new screwball romantic comedy CALL ME IRRESISTIBLE is contrived even for the genre of screwball romantic comedies, but it is often extremely funny. It’s about Meg Koranda, the child of famous parents, and Ted Beaudine, the favorite son of Wynette, Texas, who’s also a world-class entrepreneur and inventor and a past amateur golf champion. Ted’s about to get married to Meg’s best friend, Lucy Jorik, who happens to be the daughter of the former, female, President of the United States. CALL ME IRRESISTIBLE has that name because Ted is a character who seems too good to be true, and Meg can’t stand it. She senses something is way off about this wedding, and she’s right — her friend Lucy isn’t as enthused as she should be, considering she’s about to marry such a paragon.
So, of course, we know immediately that the wedding between Lucy and Ted isn’t going to come off. But it’s how the wedding doesn’t happen that causes a high level of animosity; no one blames Lucy, you see, while everyone blames Meg. Meg only told the truth, though she wasn’t exactly tactful in doing so; Meg pointed out that no one’s perfect, so even the “irresistible” Ted Beaudine must have some flaws. (And of course no one blames “Mr. Perfect,” either.)
Complicating matters, Meg is flat broke — she spent the last of her money getting to Lucy’s wedding — and no one’s willing to help her in her family as Meg’s thirty years old and they believe she’s too old for needing help no matter how desperately it’s required. Meg doesn’t have gas for her car, an old clunker, and she also doesn’t have food to eat nor many clothes, either. Which means she needs to find work, pronto, and does — as a hotel maid, making barely above minimum wage. Ms. Phillips makes a very strong point about how underpaid these gals are, then immediately undercuts that point because Meg, herself, is being paid $3/hour less than all the other maids. This is due to the fact the owner of the hotel is angry with Meg, partly because Meg couldn’t pay her bill, but mostly because Meg “insulted the town legend” by supposedly running Lucy off. (That Lucy ran out of the church herself, and Meg has no idea where she is, makes no nevermind to the story.)
As this is a screwball comedy, many contrived and predictable situations follow, though Ms. Phillips does a good job with wringing the humor out of each situation. From Meg having to caddy for Ted when she knows nothing about golf to Meg being insulted left and right because the folks of Wynette hate her with the passion of a thousand unending suns to Meg being hit on by a much older, influential man and not being able to do much about it, we can’t help rooting for Meg because most if not all of these things are totally undeserved.
But this is a romantic comedy (Ms. Phillips’s twenty-first; I counted), so of course the next step in the plot is for Meg to fall for Ted, and so she does — in a way, at least as far as falling into bed goes. But there’s where she finds Ted’s one and only flaw — he has committed the cardinal sin of spending “too much time” making love to Meg, because apparently Ted likes to spend hours with every woman he’s ever been with and Meg feels betrayed. (No, this doesn’t make much sense, even though Ms. Phillips’ point about how passion sometimes, or often, should carry true lovers away is true enough.) That Meg got chapter and verse from Lucy (who apparently is in another sexual relationship inside a week or two’s time; Meg asked Lucy’s permission to sleep with Ted, and got it), and that Lucy confirmed that Ted is the “world’s best lover” and that “every woman should be made love to by Ted” doesn’t help — Meg does not feel special this way, and is angered because Ted doesn’t allow himself to be carried away by passion from time to time. (Though Ms. Phillips didn’t write it, I kept thinking what Meg needed was a few “quickies” to appreciate what Ted was doing in delaying his own pleasure to give her as much of her own as possible. Or maybe give Meg a new brain, as this is the weakest excuse for a “flaw” I’ve ever seen in a novel.)
Look. I enjoyed CALL ME IRRESISTIBLE because it’s funny. But it’s not as good as WHAT I DID FOR LOVE, Ms. Phillips’s last novel, much less the “Phillips gold standards” of AIN’T SHE SWEET? or DREAM A LITTLE DREAM. And this isn’t Ms. Phillips second novel, or third, or even tenth — this is her twenty-first. So I can’t give her a “pass” for writing a novel with someone’s “flaw” being that he’s such a people-pleaser that he must give any woman he’s dating as much pleasure as humanly possible — that’s just not good enough.
So my grades are going to be split, I’m afraid.
Humor — A. Writing quality — A. Characterization — B. Romance — B-. Plot — C. Which averages out to about a B, B-, somewhere in there.
My advice regarding CALL ME IRRESISTIBLE is to read it for the humor and the writing quality, because it is funny and I enjoyed it very much. But it’s just not as good as AIN’T SHE SWEET? and DREAM A LITTLE DREAM, much less WHAT I DID FOR LOVE or many of the other twenty-one previous Phillips’ novels. And that’s a shame, because Phillips at her best isn’t just funny or a good writer — she actually elevates the genre.
Too bad this wasn’t one of her better efforts.
— reviewed by Barb
**Note for long-time readers of Ms. Phillips; this is a sequel of sorts to Phillips’ previous novels FANCY PANTS (where Ted was nine), LADY BE GOOD (where Ted was in his early twenties), WHAT I DID FOR LOVE (where Meg was a minor player) and GLITTER BABY (where Meg’s parents are featured), and finally also a sequel to FIRST LADY (about Lucy’s parents).**