We Love to Entertain: A Novel
“Strohmeyer’s clever adaptations around reality TV, home ‘reno,’ and online life create a page-turning thriller.”
Watching home renovation shows can be addicting—even when you know they are scripted to bring out plot points (and to sell products and advice). Sarah Strohmeyer’s lively thriller, We Love to Entertain, offers the wild ride of competitors in reality TV: Vermont homeowners Holly and Robert Barron, cute and cunning, and their hard-working assistant Erika Turnbull. For best in show, they are up against two nobly self-sacrificing other projects in other scenic areas. So what can Holly and Robert do to compel viewers and their votes? How about a flash wedding?
Much of the story is from Erika’s point of view. Not only is she working 24/7, but she’s the lone bridesmaid for Holly, who seems to have no other family members on hand. In between last-minute wedding prep (flowers, food, music, gown) and keeping tabs on house construction still in progress, Erika discovers that everything about the beautiful and show-grabbing Holly seems faked for this competition—even her name.
Erika has her own secrets, and one is painfully obvious to her mother Kim, who also offers views of the action. Kim is the town clerk and gets pity-persuaded into officiating at the wedding, even though she knows her wardrobe won’t show well on the show. “I couldn’t turn down a motherless daughter who wasn’t much older than my own. Which, when I thought about it, was another valid reason to accept [Holly’s] offer. It would be to Erika’s benefit if her mother was around to keep her in line.”
Why does this highly capable assistant need to be kept in line? Simple: She’s got a heavy-duty and self-misleading crush on her boss, Robert, with a fantasy life that involves “Rob Roy” coming to his senses at the altar, turning away from Holly, and declaring his love instead for Erika. Nor does she hide this crush: For the wedding itself, she dyes her hair blond as the bride’s and wears a cheaper but definitely matching dress. Everyone—especially her mom, but vividly the audience—can see her fruitless effort to get the groom’s attention.
So when the newly married couple vanish, and murder is suspected, Erika gets publicly demonized, something that Strohmeyer presents cleverly through the online “comments” stream. No presumption of innocence out there!
The show producer is blunt about consequences: “If we don’t hear from Holly and Robert or from their representatives by the end of the day, that’s it for this project. We have got to cut our losses to avid a debacle.”
Alas, Erika’s still trying to be loyal to the missing Robert: “Robert would want her to fight for Team H&R. He would want her to save his bacon . . . What would Robert do? He would lie.” So now she’s got to find her married bosses, and more or less on her own, while under suspicion and even threat.
But it turns out even Erika’s mother Kim has a big secret—and hers may be the most deadly for her daughter.
Strohmeyer’s clever adaptations around reality TV, home “reno,” and online life create a page-turning thriller. On the minus side, none of the characters have much depth, and don’t expect truly heroic actions, considering how clueless they all seem to be when facing serious evil and desperate violence. Then again—couldn't that, in real life, be said for most of us?