Leave It to Cleavage

Seven Days & Seven Nights

Hostile Makeover by Wendy Wax
(Bantam Books, $6.50, PG-13) ISBN 0-553-58795-1
Shelley Schwartz tries not to take anything too seriously. After all, why should she? She has a cushy job with her father's ad agency, the perfect boyfriend and unlimited credit. It's worked for her so far. That is, until lingering over a nooner with Trey causes her to miss the most important meeting of her career, leaving her all-business rival Ross Morgan to step up and snatch the account (and the agency) right out from under her.

With her birthright gone, Shelley suddenly is left with the dregs of he client list: tire shops ran by men who say 'little lady,' a falafel hut no one has ever heard of and a client who always stars in his own commercials. She's in ad-exec hell. Determined to prove to Ross that she's more than the cute girl he had sex with in the supply closet, Shelley attempts to remake herself. She's going to be serious, she's going to show up on time and she's going to apply herself. In other words, she's going to have to totally change her lifestyle.

And to make things worse, apparently her life isn't the only in shambles. To Shelly's surprise her "Stepford-wife"-like big sister suddenly shows up on her doorstep, proclaiming herself to be more than a housewife. Can Atlanta and the Schwartz Agency survive two Schwartz sisters trying to find themselves?

Hostile Makeover is a fast and funny read. Wax has a deft touch with comedy and with creating vivid, memorable characters, both main and secondary.

The most fascinating of them all is the heroine: she shouldn't be likable. She's spoiled rotten, way too old for the teenage rebellion she's enacting and completely self-centered. But somehow Wax strikes just the right note with Shelley. The reader finds herself not only drawn to Shelley but also empathizing with her. It isn't that Shelley is stupid or lazy; she's just never had to prove herself. No one has ever expected greatness from her, so she's never striven for it. In fact, no one is more surprised by her success than she.

The female relationships in this story are expertly explored. Shelley and Judy start out not really understanding each other, each thinking the other has the perfect life. Wax does a great job of capturing that familial relationship that exists between sisters who are just a few too many years apart. The reader understands that the sisters love each other, but really have no clue about the other's life independent of the family. As each character grows out of their traditional family roles, they grow closer together and learn not only about each other but also from each other.

The character of Ross is kind of hard to peg. In the beginning, he exists only to antagonize Shelley. Beyond that, the reader doesn't really know much about him, I would have liked to seen a bit of the story from his perspective, but that's usually missing from chick-lit anyway. From the brief glimpses we get of him, he's funny, intelligent and more than a match for Shelley. He's the only person who's ever made her work for approval and expected success from her. Despite his limited story time, it's easy to see why their relationship, such as it is, works.

There's something endearing about the way Shelley struggles through the story. Maybe it's the poetic justice of someone having to work so hard after being so indulged, or maybe, just maybe it's that Shelley does it with style. She doesn't sit in her office and cry (she saves that for therapist's couch); no, she throws on her "Hepburn" attitude (and some classic Chanel) and looks her problems (namely Ross) straight in the eye. Shelley doesn't just get her happy ending; she earns it, just as this novel earns its 4-heart rating.

--Amanda Waters

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