Dear Ms. Fox:
I was interested to read Body Heat–I enjoyed your book, Love, Unexpectedly. Love, Unexpectedly had heat, heart, and smarts. Body Heat, not so much.
The book’s heroine, Maura Mahoney, is about to turn thirty and her life is marginally more exciting than watching paint dry. Maura, like so many pitiable leads in romance, was orphaned at a young age. (And, by the way, what’s up with that? Half the romances I’ve read recently have orphaned protagonists. Authors, please, find a new tragic past for your characters!) Maura was raised by two people in that most soul crushing of professions: academia; her rather awful uncle and aunt are an archaeology professor and a history professor. Aunt Agnes and Uncle Timothy run Maura down for being an underachiever while at the same time pushing her toward romantically dull men. Maura, though, isn’t an underachiever by the standards of most. She’s got a job she loves–she’s the accountant at an old folk’s home, or, in fancy parlance, a seniors residence facility–which she’s a whiz bang at. She’s just applied for the job of General Manager, a job she’s currently doing–the old GM had a heart attack and took early retirement–and is working her “gently rounded hips” off to get it. She is however missing even a whit of excitement in her life. Currently, the funnest thing she does is secretly watch old movies on TV. (These are considered “trash” by her adoptive parents and Maura feels guilty about enjoying them.)
Then, one gorgeous spring day, a hottie on a “huge, shiny black bike pulled into the parking lot,” and don’t you just know Ms. Maura’s life is about to get a whole lot more thrills. The guy on the bike is Jesse Blue. (Every time I read his name, I wanted to sing “Ooo ooo Jesse Blue,” in homage to the 1975 classic by the Ozark Mountain Daredevils.) Jesse is (supposedly) a bad boy. He’s got long dark hair, an earring in his left ear, wears a black leather jacket, and has an exceptionally large penis. The women he hangs out with have “big tits exploding out of their low-cut necklines.” And, he’s a bona fide criminal. He’s at Cherry Lane (the home) because he beat the hell out of a guy and just narrowly escaped jail time and is, instead, doing three months of community service at Cherry Lane. (It goes without saying he had a good reason for beating up his victim–the guy was serially abusing a female friend of Jesse’s.)
From the moment Maura and Jesse see each other it’s a lust-o-rama. To her, he “was the single most masculine creature she’d ever seen in her life. She felt a fizz in her blood, a tingle low in her belly. The kind of feelings that–to date–she’d only experienced when watching sexy actors in sensual love scenes.” To him, she looked like his perfect dream girl: “a lingerie model… elegant, yet lush, and totally self-contained.” He gets a hard-on as he tries to imagine “what lay under all that buttoned-up clothing.” The two are so hot for each other they spend vast amounts of their time fantasizing about having sex together. In fact, they spend so much time in this lustful dream state that, by the beginning of Chapter Four, I was desperate for them to push all that paper off of Maura’s desk and go at big time. By Chapter Five, I was skimming pages of detailed and increasingly dull imaginary trysts.
But, they can’t be together because they come from different worlds. Maura is an MBA, Jesse a high-school dropout. Maura believes in following the rules, Jesse’s a rebel. Maura isn’t sure her clit works–she’s never had an orgasm (or been to the movies by herself)–; Jesse’s bedded a bevy of babes. Maura reads serious books like–I am not making this up–The Time Traveler’s Wife–; Jesse doesn’t read a thing. Maura is, according to her, his boss (iffy), Jesse’s a lowly worker. Whatever could they have in common besides non-stop sex fantasies?
Sadly, the one thing they share the most–after the predisposition to suddenly imagine getting laid by the other–is awkward artificial conversation. When, driving to pick up supplies for the garden Jesse is working on, they first have a conversation about something other than Cherry Lane, it’s flat out odd.
“I’m not used to driving the van. And I thought the call was from Cherry Lane and I’m in charge so I wanted to answer. But I shouldn’t have.”
“Oh.” He sounded surprised and said nothing more for a few seconds. Then, “Sorry, I swore.”
An apology. How about that? “Apology accepted.”
“Shouldn’t have commented on your personal life, either.”
…As she pulled away from the stop sign she found herself saying, “When you go out on dates, what do you do?” She was sure that other people had more interesting dates than attending academic lectures.
….He chuckled, a knowing confident sound.
Quickly she said, “I didn’t mean to pry into your personal life, I was just wondering what….” She didn’t know how to finish that thought.
“What normal folks do on a date” he asked dryly.
I didn’t like most of this book. Maura is often too bitchy to care for–she’s routinely snide to Jesse. Jesse’s too practically perfect in every way–he hasn’t a single real flaw other than underestimating his worth. The fantasies were annoying and robbed the actual sex scenes of any power. The ending is pat.
Body Heat, however, does have some charms. The seniors and Maura’s co-workers are all engaging characters and act in ways that move forward and enhance the story. Ms. Fox is an able writer with a nice ability for simple yet descriptive phrases. She’s also, when not writing dialog for Maura and Jesse–theirs tends to sound stilted–, quite funny. Her portrayals of working class men and women and the jobs they do are interesting and believable.
Overall, though, the book didn’t work for me. I give it a C.