|A new Susan Elizabeth Phillips books is a source of tension for me. I definitely look forward to it, but I also worry: what if she's bombed it this time? Who willá I turn to for an intelligent but comforting read? Happily I can delay the worrying for a while longer.
Actors Georgie York and Bramwell Shepard met almost a decade ago on the set of a popular television sitcom. These days they pretty much hate each other. He relentlessly teases her for being so na´ve. She blames him for ruining not just her innocence but the entire show with his bad-boy ways.
When they find themselves legally wedded after a night gone wrong in Las Vegas, Georgie decides it is worth staying that way for publicity reasons. She has been the object of far too much pity ever since her actor-husband left her for a sex-bomb star. She wants this opportunity to break-away from the little orphan Annie mold that once made her name. She hopes to change things in her favor. Bramwell has his own reasons for wanting the marriage, but he does not reveal them to Georgie or the reader until much later.
In the meantime, we discover that Bramwell has cleaned up his act and for all his bad-boy ways is a truly decent human being. He is in fact a recognizable Phillips character: the spoilt, natural charmer who, despite his solid heart, has a great deal of growing up to do. He is not as convincing as Phillips' other creations of this sort, perhaps because a good deal of this growing up takes place outside the pages of the book. Georgie's development is more visible to us, but because it focuses too much on being loved for herself, it is a little too unidirectional.
Together, however, Bramwell and Georgie are wonderful. I loved watching them sparring (some might call it squabbling, but it is too good-humored for that) and I enjoyed the way she always has the perfect answer for him. At the same time, I was quite moved at how he tries and tries to get things right, but does not always manage. Their relation is definitely built on sex (and as usual Phillips writes those scenes well), but it is obvious there's a whole lot more.
Phillips excels with her secondary characters, and the ones we meet here are no disappointment. Bramwell's housekeeper Chaz (delightfully described as Martha Stewart with a punk hairstyle) is matched off with Georgie's geeky overweight personal assistant Aaron, while Geogie's staid, widowed father finds new love in his daughter's frumpy agent.
These characters and others, including Georgie's ex and his new wife, get to interact in a wonderful sequence when they are all quarantined together in Bramwell's house, an allusion perhaps to Jane Smiley's recent Ten Daysá in the Hills. I doubt that Philips has the same pretensions as Smiley (and all the power to her, says I). Despite this, I must note that interspersed with all the sex, romance and childish behavior is a thought-provoking and intelligent interrogation of all the wrongs people do to themselves for love.
What I Did for Love is not Phillips' best, but it is still better than most books on the market. In other words, it is very good indeed.