Compulsion

Maybe Baby

Pray Love, Remember

 
Man at Work by Elaine Fox
(Avon, $5.99, PG-13) ISBN 0-380-81784-5
***
Marcy Paglinowski and Truman Fleming have mistaken ideas about each other. Marcy is a lawyer from a disadvantaged background, but Truman thinks sheís rich and privileged. Truman is the son of a senator and from a very wealthy family, but Marcy thinks heís a poor working stiff because heís decided to turn his back on his real profession and work as a construction laborer to see how real people live.

They meet when Marcy is working on a personal injury case, the first one sheís handling herself for her high-powered Washington, D.C., law firm. If she conducts it successfully, this could put her on the partnership track. A construction worker was hurt on a job site, and Marcy is trying to prove the company was not in compliance with OSHA regulations and that was the direct cause of the clientís injuries. Truman comes to her rescue when she becomes involved in an altercation with a construction supervisor. Truman begins to assist Marcy in accumulating the evidence to establish her case, but he=s more interested in Marcy herself than in her legal case.

Marcy tries to resist her attraction to Truman and keep their relationship strictly business, but she=s caught in a losing situation. Will things work out for them when the truth is revealed?

There seems to be a thinly disguised moral behind this story line: genuine people don=t have high-powered, successful careers in big cities. The search for happiness will lead to throwing away the dress-for-success suits and living a simple, bucolic lifestyle. I was more comfortable with this book when Marcy was feverishly scrambling to make the partnership track along with volunteering at a homeless shelter, rescuing an abused puppy, providing emotional support to her best girlfriend, and remaining close to her overworked mother and dysfunctional family. How much more genuine is she supposed to be?

Man at Work features that familiar stock plot, the Big Misunderstanding. It works best if there seems to be a good reason to continue the confusion. In this story, other than keeping the secrets going so the misunderstanding can create more misunderstandings, thereís no good reason that Marcy and Truman canít tell all early on.

Marcyís continuing ignorance of Trumanís real identity is particularly difficult to understand. Sheís hoping to use Truman as a witness at trial. When he tells her he canít, she wonders if heís a ex-con or a former mental patient. What kind of lawyer is she that she doesnít do the most basic background check on a potential witness? With online resources that are available today, I could have pegged this guy in minutes. And what kind of smart, educated woman would tumble into bed with a near-stranger without a single personal history question or some protection? Since Marcyís actions are so contrary to what a real lawyer would do in her position, it weakens the plot.

Trumanís situation as a construction worker is similarly farfetched. He=s chucked years of education and his white-collar professional career for a blue-collar job. Is it that easy to walk onto a construction site and get hired on the spot? Didnít anyone ask for relevant work experience? References? A union card?

I couldnít help but notice that although they donít recognize it, Marcy and Truman are still following the path laid out for them in childhood. Marcy has tried to shed her disadvantaged background with a professional career, but sheís still attracted to the construction worker rather than the professional men she meets through her career. Truman may think heís living in the real world, but he gets the hots for a lady lawyer not the waitress at the diner across the street. Will these two still want each other when real life sets in?

The story walks a thin line between humor and seriousness. The best scene in the book is near the end when Marcy lets Truman have it after she learns the truth - she is not amused - I, however, was cheering her on. The story has traces of a screwball comedy, but much of it is serious business as Marcy battles the Heartless Corporation for her client. There is also an entertaining subplot about Guido, the construction bossís enforcer. And for something really funny, check out the cover art where the big bruiser dressed in work clothes has a teeny-tiny suit-clad woman tossed over his shoulder. If she were to stand next to him, she might come up to his waist.

Sometimes even though the plot sounds interesting, a book just never comes together, the characters donít come alive, and the overall impression is flat. This is one of those times and one of those books. Man at Work isnít a bad book; it just isnít a very engrossing one.

--Lesley Dunlap


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