The Pregnancy Test, by Erin McCarthy

>> Thursday, September 07, 2006

I've been hearing some good things about author Erin McCarthy, so I thought I'd give her a try. So when someone offered me to trade for The Pregnancy Test, I accepted, even though it didn't really sound like my kind of book at all!

Ordinarily, I'm a fan of pink-lovely color, does smashing things for the complexion. But not when it's the bright, glaring stripe staring back at me on the pregnancy test. Then, pink is the color of major oops, of morning sickness, of boyfriends who seemed decent but now are part of some Jerk Witness Protection Program.

Still, I've got a few things going for me-bitter humor, a divine right to eat till I'm the size of Marlon Brando, and good friends who've managed to get me a job interview with one Damien Sharpton: in need of a personal assistant, and some say, a good, swift kick in the arse. If you want to make a lasting impression, by all means, toss your cookies in your future boss's wastebasket, which is located directly between his excruciatingly sexy legs.

Apparently, Mr. Gorgeous-But-Unbearably-Anti-Social must like personal assistants who violate their trashcans, because I got the job. And if I can avoid him via text messaging for the next nine months of free health insurance, everything will be just fine. Except that he's just asked-no, insisted-that I go with him on a business trip to the Caribbean. Gulp. Ordinarily, this would be cause for celebration. Ordinarily, I'd shave my legs, pack my bikini, revel in day-glo drinks and my seething lust for Mr. Swarthy-And-Secretive. But there's nothing ordinary about this situation…which means it could be absolutely extraordinary…
This might be a good book for when life is complicated and you feel like reading something that will distract you, but doesn't have a whole lot of conflict in it. In fact, I'd say The Pregnancy Test is pretty much conflict-free. Still, it was a nice, sweet story. I'd give it a B-, but with some reservations. I'm aware of the fact that I've recently rated as C+ some books that one could objectively say are better than this one (I'm thinking the Goodman, for one). But well, whereas in those books quite a few parts bored me and made me want to skim (or at least, put the book aside for a while), here I read every word, and practically in one sitting.

Mandy Keeling is pregnant and her boyfriend did a runner (oh, I can't deal with this, I don't want another kid, etc., etc.) when he found out. Mandy decides having a child on the way means she needs to be responsible, and for her, being responsible means that she needs to give up her struggling toy store and find a 9-to-5 job (easier to get child care) with health insurance.

Of course, Mandy's situation isn't really too desperate. Her parents have got serious money and it's always very clear that they'd be perfectly ready to help her out. And it's not even one of those romance-novel situation in which the grandparents would help out, yes, but would pretty much ask for the kid's soul in return. In this case it's simply that Mandy would feel better about herself if she handled things on her own. It's a perfectly sensible thing, and I very much respect Mandy for wanting to be self-sufficient, but this is something that kind of sets the tone for the whole book. Remember I said it was pretty conflict-free? Well, that's because you never get the feeling that the stakes are that high. What happens if Mandy does not get this job? Do she and her kid starve? Nope, she's got enough of a safety net that it won't be that big a deal. What happens if people find out she's pregnant? Well, nothing, really. Maybe she'll get some embarrassing comments, but nothing truly bad. It's all like this.

Anyway, back to the story. One of Mandy's roommates works at a computer company, and she gets her an interview for an assistant position with an executive in her company, Damien "Demon" Sharpton. Damien has a reputation for being a very cold fish and an extremely demanding boss, and scores of secretaries have already left in tears.

Mandy's interview is a nightmare. She and Damien unknowingly share an elevator up to the office, and she not only tells him she's a bit worried about her interview because her potential boss has a reputation for being a bastard (paraphrasing here), she also gets a bout of morning sickness and throws up on his shoes. Actually, the book gets points because McCarthy doesn't play the situation in a way that the humour depends on the heroine being humiliated. It's an embarrassing situation, but Mandy comes out ahead, and when Damien actually interviews her, she handles herself just fine and is hired.

And so Mandy starts to work with Damien, and becomes the best assistant he's ever had. Only one problem, he never gets to see her. She handles everything he throws at her like a champ, but only through email and IM. Damien doesn't know why she might be hiding from him (we know that she's trying to hide that she's pregnant, but obviously, he doesn't), but he's getting more and more obsessed with her. So he decides to order her to go to the Caribbean with him. He's got the trip supposedly as a vacation, as a prize for his work productivity, but he tells her that he doesn't do vacations and that he needs her there because he intends to work.

And so off they go to Punta Cana, where they end up giving in to temptation and starting an affair that is supposed to finish the minute they get back to New York. But, of course (this is a romance novel after all), when the time comes, it's not easy for either of them to let go.

When I started the book, I was most doubtful about the pregnancy angle, because the description I read made it sound as if a huge part of the plot was going to be about how Mandy hid it from Damien. But it turns out I actually quite liked how McCarthy handled it. I can't fault Mandy for prefering not to be upfront about it (it might be illegal to discriminate on that basis, but we all know it happens, and much too often), and I thought the truth came out in the exact right point in which the secrecy would have stopped being justified.

The focus of the book ended up being squarely on the relationship. Of course, the fact that Mandy is pregnant is a big issue there, but things like Damien's issues with relationships end up being much more important in what little conflict there is between them. As I said, it's not really much of a conflict, and I thought McCarthy didn't make as good a use as she could have of Damien's background and past, but I liked what there was of it.

The characters are nice enough, if not particularly deep. Mandy wasn't nearly as silly as I feared she might be, and Damien was a nice guy. I liked that his extremely difficult past hadn't made him into a mysoginist bastard. Cold, yes, but he was never cruel or mean. And I liked seeing how he came alive again thanks to Mandy. Oh, and I liked his complete and utter fascination with her pregnancy. As to this, I recognize that having the hero being so into the pregnant heroine, even when the child isn't his, is a powerful fantasy. As someone who doesn't have kids and is not planning to have any, it's maybe a little less powerful for me, but I appreciated this aspect of Demon all the same.

All in all, TPT is a pretty light and insubstantial story, but one that's quite nice, with a sweet, funny romance and sympathetic characters. I don't think I'd pay TPB price for it (I got it used, in a trade, remember), but it's not a bad way to spend a couple of hours.


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