What I Did For Love, by Susan Elizabeth Phillips

>> Tuesday, September 01, 2009

TITLE: What I Did For Love
AUTHOR: Susan Elizabeth Phillips

PAGES: 401
PUBLISHER: William Morrow

SETTING: Contemporary US
TYPE: Straight romance
SERIES: No, although there are some guest appearances from characters from earlier SEP books

REASON FOR READING: SEP is an autoread, but I was very hesitant about this one.

How did this happen? Georgie York, once the costar of America's favorite television sitcom, has been publicly abandoned by her famous husband, her film career has tanked, her father is driving her crazy, and her public image as a spunky heroine is taking a serious beating.

What should a down-on-her-luck actress do? Not go to Vegas . . . not run into her detestable former costar, dreamboat-from-hell Bramwell Shepard . . . and not get caught up in an ugly incident that leads to a calamitous elopement. Before she knows it, Georgie has a fake marriage, a fake husband, and maybe (or not) a fake sex life.

It's a paparazzi free-for-all, and Georgie's nonsupporting cast doesn't help. There's Bram's punk-nightmare housekeeper, Georgie's own pushy parent, a suck-up agent, an icy studio head with a private agenda, and her ex-husband's new wife, who can't get enough of doing good deeds and saving the world—the bitch. As for Georgie's leading man, Bram's giving the performance of his life, but he's never cared about anyone except himself, and it's not exactly clear why.

Two enemies find themselves working without a script in a town where the spotlight shines bright . . . and where the strongest emotions can wear startling disguises.
Does SEP actively try to make me hate her protags at the beginning of books? I think she does play a game of how horrid can I make this person and still redeem them in one short book? Well, if I hadn't known this, I think What I Did For Love would have been a DNF. But since I trusted she would make me love Bram and Georgie in the end, I persisted.

Bram Shepard and Georgie York were costars in teen hit sitcom "Skip and Scooter". They were completely different kinds of teen stars. While Georgie was always professional and kind and considerate to everyone, Bram, who came from a very underprivileged background, didn't know how to handle his success. He was a total nightmare to work with for everyone involved. Georgie started out with a bit of a crush on him (or rather, the character he played), but by the end of the show's run (it ended up cancelled due to some very public misbehaviour of Bram's) she had come to hate him.

Since the show ended, the two haven't spoken at all. Bram has become unemployable, known for his rowdy lifestyle and having spent all his money. Georgie, meanwhile, is still an icon, even though her movies haven't been hits. She also married an A-list action hero actor, in spite of what she disparagingly describes as her gumdrop eyes and rubber mouth.

The book starts as Georgie is ambushed by paparazzi who confront her with the news that her ex's new wife is pregnant. It turns out that her A-lister husband has left Georgie for this incredibly sexy star known for her humanitarian work all over the world, and the press have been portraying Georgie as a victim ever since.

Georgie is sick of this, and determined to neutralise it by being seen having fun and going out with men. However, her attempts to do this end in disaster during a weekend in Vegas, when after accidentally taking a spiked drink, she ends up waking up naked and with Bram. Even worse, the next thing she discovers is a wedding certificate.

Plans for a quickie annulment are abandoned when the press finds out, and unwilling to be seen as the victim yet again, Georgie convinces Bram to stay married for 6 months. She'll even pay him $50K for every month. But it soon becomes quite clear to the reader that Bram's motivation for staying in this marriage is not necessarily the money.

For most of the book, I disliked the characters. Bram behaves like a complete asshole. It doesn't help that we're not in his head all that much, but even in hindsight, after we find out the truth about what's going on, a lot of his initial behaviour towards Georgie is incredibly childish and needlessly cruel. He seems to resent her, for some reason I never discovered. He was the one in the wrong all those years before. Georgie was always nice to him, right until the time when he made very sure she would stop liking him. And even after that, she never gave him any reason to resent her at all. I felt he should have apologised to her ages before, the minute he realised what a bastard he'd been.

Georgie was a bit of a better person, but I found her obsession with the tabloids and how they portray her to be pathetic. The woman spends most of the book strategising and living her entire life based on what she wants the tabloids to see. She changes clothes several times a day and goes on strategic outings to places where she'll be photographed. Man, she even stays married and goes to live with a man she intensely dislikes and who treats her like shit for a long time just to present a certain image.

The other problem with the first, say, three quarters of the book was that there was as much focus on the characters as there was on their lifestyle, and that was a complete turn-off. I think we were supposed to admire her and envy the way Georgie and Bram lived... Georgie'sstylist and beautiful clothes (each outfit is described in tedious detail, and there are A LOT of them) and PA, their fame and how they're treated as very, very important people. Well, guess what? I found them pretty useless.

Georgie was the worst, I'm afraid. I think we were also supposed to find her somehow better than Jade (her ex's do-gooder new wife), but at least Jade, however annoying and self-righteous, was actually doing some good in the world, not obsessing over going to the right coffee place in the right clothes. Georgie's response to all this is "I'm going to take medical supplies to Haiti!", even though she knows or cares nothing about the problems there. At least Bram delivers a bit of a set-down there, asking her if she doesn't think it's a bit cold to use a country's misery for a photo-op. She also drives a Prius, of course, even though there's nothing else in the book to indicate she gives a fig about the environment. It's all like that for her, all for show and about her image, and it annoyed me.

In the rest of her books, SEP's initially horrid characters work because she's doing it on purpose. In this case, I think she was doing this only with some things about Bram, and that was mostly fair enough, but I don't think she actually intended for Georgie and Bram's celebrity lifestyle to repulse the reader as much as it did me.

Not only did I not like the characters for a lot of the book, I also hated the "grabbed from the (tabloid) headlines" plot. I hate that I actually recognised the parallels between Georgie's situation and the whole Jennifer Aniston / Brad Pitt / Angelina Jolie mess (for pity's sake, at one point Georgie compares herself and Bram with Ross and Rachel, when they did the Vegas drunk wedding thing). Man, I work hard at ignoring that crap, how come I still have that knowledge in my mind?

So did SEP succeed in redeeming this people and making me care about them? Well, mostly yes. In the last quarter or so of the book the celebrity worship receeds a bit and the focus is on Georgie and Bram's relationship and on Georgie coming into her own, and that was much, much better. I especially liked seeing Bram getting his comeuppance, falling for Georgie completely and realising he may have screwed up his chances.

I also liked the secondary characters. Bram's housekeeper Chaz, especially, was the only character I unreservedly liked throughout the whole book. she does worship Bram, but she's got reason for it, it's not at all about him being a movie star (squee!). I also enjoyed the secondary romance involving Georgie's dad.

MY GRADE: As the book ended on a positive note, it's tempting to actually give it a B-. But rereading my troubles with most of the rest of it (much of what's above I wrote as I was actually reading through those sections, as a way of venting), I can't give it more than a C.


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