Call Me Irresistible: A Novel
Watching an author try something risky and pull it off is one of reading’s greatest pleasures. If anyone can do it, it’s Susan Elizabeth Phillips, who writes with such assurance that she could probably turn the phone book into a good story.
In Call Me Irresistible, she creates a hero both so perfect and so enigmatic that he is truly irresistible. Yet in order to keep him a mystery to the heroine and the reader, Ms. Phillips plays the dangerous game of keeping us entirely outside of his point-of-view until the end of Chapter 22, a mere three chapters before the end of the book. It works brilliantly.
Who is this marvelously intriguing hero? Theodore Beaudine, son of Francesca and Dallas Beaudine of Fancy Pants (in which he appears as a nine-year-old). Ted is the unwilling heart and soul of Wynette, Texas. He was elected mayor despite not running for the office, a job he performs with total conscientiousness. He’s a genius at environmentally responsible engineering and a scratch golfer. Women fall in love with him on sight. When he walks in a church door, trumpets sound. When he walks back out again, a ray of sun turns his hair into a golden halo.
In short, Ted is perfect, and that is his problem. He’s so concerned with making everyone happy that he never allows himself to be himself. From the first moment he appears, the reader is given the strong sense that there’s a disconnect between his words and actions, and his internal life. The truth is that no one knows the real Ted.
As the book opens, Ted is about to embark on the perfect marriage—to Lucy Jorik, the daughter of a former President of the United States—when a disaster named Meg Koranda blows into town to be her best friend’s bridesmaid. Meg has sensed something amiss in Lucy’s descriptions of her fiancé and, after seeing the couple together, becomes convinced the marriage is one of convenience, not passion.
Believing Lucy deserves better from a husband, Meg tries to persuade her to call off the wedding. Just as Lucy is about to walk down the aisle, Meg succeeds. Lucy flees the wedding and gets the heck out of Wynette, leaving her old friend to bear the brunt of the town’s outrage.
Meg is the daughter of former super-model Fleur Savagar and playwright-actor Jake Koranda of Glitter Baby. Feeling inadequate in her competition with her overachieving family, Meg has drifted through life, spending most of her time traveling to exotic locales while being supported by her parents. In an act of tough love, they have cut off her funds, so she finds herself broke, homeless, and unable to leave town, despite the hatred directed at her. At least she has her pride, so although she feels like a loser, she manages to survive on her own by setting up camp in a deserted church (which Ted rescued from demolition), landing a menial job at the local country club, and selling pieces of jewelry she makes herself.
Uncharacteristically, Ted does everything he can to drive her out of town, even having the sheriff threaten to arrest her as a vagrant. Although he seems justified in disliking her since she ruined his wedding day, Ted is never cranky, cruel, or vindictive, even to his enemies (the very few he has). Meg gets under his skin, but at the same time allows him an outlet for his less acceptable emotions. Their encounters send sparks flying.
When they become lovers (only after Meg gets the runaway Lucy’s approval), Meg discovers that Ted’s legendary sexual technique is also pure perfection. However, she prefers sex to be steamy, sweaty, and out-of-control. Despite his prowess at bringing her pleasure, Meg finds herself dissatisfied and tries to persuade Ted to just let loose. This only spurs him to greater heights of virtuosity, so their love scenes are always both hot and humorous.
Life in Wynette gets very complicated when Meg suddenly becomes integral to the town’s hopes for an economic revitalization. At that point, her tormenters become her reluctant champions. For those who are veteran Susan Elizabeth Phillips readers, the supporting cast offers entertaining cameos of characters from previous books. Nealy Case and Mat Jorik from First Lady appear briefly, as do Meg’s parents. Lady Emma and Kenny Traveler, as well as secondary characters Torie and Dex from Lady Be Good, have noticeable roles. Probably the most significant players in Meg and Ted’s drama are Ted’s parents. For those who have not followed Ms. Phillips’s career, the array of townsfolk populating the story may be a little overwhelming, but they add wonderful color and quirkiness.
Call Me Irresistible displays many of Susan Elizabeth Phillips’ signature touches: a heroine who hits rock bottom before she retrieves her self-respect; a hero with darkness roiling behind his delicious façade; clever dialogue; authentic emotion; and hot sex. Yet it is a book that takes chances: with its hero, with its humor, and in its love scenes.
In a less assured writer’s hands, the risks might prove disastrous, but Ms. Phillips never hits a false note, keeping the reader utterly engrossed by the complexity of her sympathetic characters and by the very real plight of a small town.