The Fling

 
The Dare by Elda Minger
(Berkley, $6.99, PG-13) ISBN 0-425-19276-8
**
After a few pages, I thought my biggest problem with this book was going to be the fact that I didn’t find it funny. After a few chapters, however, it became clear that tired jokes and forced humor were the least of its problems.

Alyssa Preston’s friend, Mindy, is getting married. Maid of honor Alyssa arrives from San Francisco on the eve of the ceremony to find Mindy worried that her intended is at his bachelor party cheating on her with a stripper. Mindy reasons (and I use the word loosely) that their only option is for Alyssa to disguise herself in a wig, black leather miniskirt and thigh-high boots, and infiltrate the party. Alyssa is a dancer who has been known to perform dressed only in blue paint, so she’ll be able to shake some convincing booty, if necessary.

Outside the home of the best man, Cooper, where the party is taking place, Alyssa finds the strippers and hears that they’ve been instructed to keep things tame and tasteful – like a Victoria’s Secret catalogue – because “the groom really loves his bride.” Apparently unable to take the word of strippers, Alyssa goes in with the girls and, after a few sips of spiked punch, is totally out of control.

When Alyssa flings her bra in Cooper’s face from the table top where she’s dancing up a storm, he removes the untasteful stripper from the party to his den where she passes out. When Alyssa awakens, the party is over. She then decides that the straight-laced Cooper needs some excitement in his life and that it’s time for her to lose her virginity: “A night of great sex, an out-of-town affair, was exactly what she needed, because she wanted to feel like she was actually participating in the sensual side of her life.”

In addition to being breathtakingly unromantic, this kind of shallow psychobabble masquerades as character motivation throughout the book.

After one night of sex and some unconvincing verbal sparring at the wedding, Cooper decides that Alyssa is unlike any woman he’s ever known before and that he must have her forever. This all happens in his head, after Alyssa has taken herself back to San Francisco. In fact, both characters spend more time gazing at their own navels than they do at each other, and the lint they find there isn’t terribly fascinating.

In spite of all this introspection, neither Alyssa nor Cooper has any strength as a character. Cooper isn’t a guy so much as a girlfriend with a penis. The bachelor party he organizes has a Mardi Gras theme, a sparkly cake and punch. He notices what Alyssa wears in impressive detail, attributes human characteristics to his “companion animals,” and is “impressed” by a salad of “baby greens, thinly sliced fennel bulb, white mushrooms, a few choice pieces of avocado, and some shaved Parmesan cheese, all lightly coated in a shallot vinaigrette.” What a man.

Alyssa is sweet enough to cause insulin shock. She lives with and dotes on her beloved (rich) grandfather, whom everyone else in the family thinks is hopelessly eccentric. She convinces a chubby, untalented teenager to stay in her dance troupe. She buys a pony for a little girl she meets briefly on an airplane, so that the cherub will believe in Santa. My teeth start to hurt.

There is not a single honest obstacle to Cooper and Alyssa’s relationship. Although described as a workaholic, he follows her to San Francisco, leaving his business behind with scarcely a thought. He’s so rich he can drop thousands of dollars at an auction to impress her, and pay cash for a house in her neighborhood. Essentially, he buys her.

After some poor-little-rich-girl whining about an unhappy childhood that makes her unfit for relationships, Alyssa concludes – while alone, of course – that “playing it safe in matters of the heart led to a life that was a living death.” She can hardly wait to find Cooper and tell him that they can be together after all. Gee, and here I was on the edge of my seat.

Final analysis? The Dare is just plain dull.

-- Judi McKee


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