Calendar Girl by Naomi Neale
(Dorchester, $12.95, PG) ISBN 0-8439-5470-1
I’m beginning to think that, in order to enjoy most Chick Lit books on the shelves, readers have to accept that the heroine will be clueless, self-absorbed, and possess the common sense of a gnat. And that might be generous. Calendar Girl, from Dorchester’s “Making It” line, offers an interesting cast of secondary characters. Too bad they’re hanging around Nan Cloutier.

Nan is twenty-eight and “seasonally employed” in a variety of jobs, having a degree in Liberal Arts (translation: no marketable job skills). She works in a series of costumed jobs for a company called Seasonal Staffers. As the story opens, she’s dressed as a “Who” in the Mercer-Iverson Department Store’s version of Dr. Seuss’ Whoville, and she’s tired of wearing too-tight tights and having her butt pinched by half of the middle-aged guys standing in line with their kids. Desperate to avoid having to play “Cindy-Lou Who” in the store window, Nan lies and says she speaks French. This leads to a set of circumstances in which she meets the store patriarch, old Mr. Andrew Iverson, and is on hand when he breaks his arm.

Andrew thinks Nan would be perfect for his grandson, Colm Iverson, and he arranges a meeting in which Nan thinks she’s being hired to babysit a small grandson, and Colm inadvertently thinks Nan is a hooker. Nan and Colm are attracted to each other, but Nan, in what readers will come to see is typical Nan-fashion, can’t think of anything to do except get up and storm out of Andrew’s apartment in humiliation. If she’d shown the least amount of humor or at least tried to laugh it off, I would probably have been hooked. As it was, I couldn’t see what Colm would find intriguing about her.

Nan and her closest pals call themselves the Elizabethan Failures because none of them are really doing what they want to do, and they regularly meet to see what’s going on in each other’s lives. She is sure her pal Ambrose is gay, though he’s told her a hundred times he’s not. Her pal Maya offers advice and appears to be one of the few sane people in the book. Her brothers are going through crises of their own and end up moving into Nan’s shabby loft space above a bakery. Her father is suddenly dressing well and fussing over his appearance. And when Colm reappears, Nan really, really wants to go out with the guy, but dithers and waffles to the point where I longed to smack her.

Nan constantly bemoans the fact that she looks like she’s still in junior high, since she’s small-boned and flat-chested. That wouldn’t be a problem if she didn’t act like it, too. Frankly, her thought processes resemble a thirteen-year-old in a fit of high drama rather than a woman approaching thirty. It might be a lot more fun if Nan wasn’t so personally responsible for all the crap in her life. Her brothers move in and freeload, but does she have an honest conversation with them and tell them to leave? No, she throws a tantrum. She moans and whines about her job, but is she doing anything at all to make herself marketable in any way? No, it’s more fun to hang out at a bar with her friends and bitch. She gets drunk at a party and lets an old flame paw her in front of Colm, but does she apologize and tell him “Sorry, he came up behind me and I thought it was you”? No, she runs away, and then doesn’t call or do anything to try and make the situation right. I found myself wanting to shriek, “Oh, for god’s sake, GROW UP!”

And maybe this is what is the ultimate irritant about so many Chick Lit books. Immature women causing their own problems and then endlessly moaning about them isn’t funny, and it’s an attempt at humor that seems to permeate too many novels in this sub-genre. Too bad, because in this story, the secondary characters were interesting and lively, and the only reason this book is getting two hearts instead of one.

Calendar Girl misses the mark. The cover quotes proclaim that it’s “perfect for library shelves”. I suggest that’s where you leave it.

--Cathy Sova

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