Saturday, September 26, 2020

Red by Erica Spindler

Holy un-PC, Batman! It's been a while since I delved into my vintage romance collection to pull out an oldie-but-goodie, and this one sounded like a fun foray down Sleaze Avenue, courtesy of Los Angeles. Anyone who likes Jackie Collins is going to love this book because it follows the same glitter-dusted garbage formula of the epics of 80s high-rollers rising to their great heights... only to fall into the pit of their own hubris. Sex, glamor, drugs, and violence-- brought to you by romance!

(Seriously, anyone who thinks that romance novels are all hearts and flowers have another think coming.)


Our heroine is a girl named Becky Lynn who lives in one of those states I forget exists until they try to pass legislation demanding that prayer be mandatory in schools or that abortion is punishable by public flogging. She hates it there, for precisely those reasons: she's poor, unpopular, and a victim of the machismo football culture that says that all women are fair game. Because she's helpless and vulnerable, her brother's friends sexually molest and then gang-rape her, which ends up being the final straw since she already lives in an abusive home. 

She goes to Los Angeles and finds out that people there are busy and rude (yes). They don't have time for her "I always depend on the kindness of strangers" mindset, although she ends up getting a job at a salon. That's where she meets the hero, who is the son of the woman who owns it. Jack is a bit of a manwhore but most importantly, he's an aspiring photographer and an actual bastard who hates his successful manwhore father, and is insanely jealous of his father's legitimate son, Carlo. One day, Jack vows that he'll show them both by surpassing them in the perfect show of revenge.

He's impressed by all of the knowledge of photography and modeling that Becky has from reading fashion magazines and ends up hiring her as his assistant. They work well together and when they're friends, the relationship between them is actually quite sweet. It's when things turn sexual that it gets to be a bit of a mess because Becky is a settle in and choose the wallpaper kind of girl, and Jack is a "commitment is just another word for byeeeee" type of guy. But because he likes her, he sucks it up, but it all falls to pieces anyway when Jack sleeps with Sexual Harassment Susan to close a business deal (her name was actually Garnet or something, but she SHS is her new name for quid pro quo harassment-- because fuck that noise).

Long story short: Becky leaves Jack and ends up working for Carlo, his half-brother, as a model. Both of them want revenge on Jack now, and Carlo relishes the idea of "finding" the beauty in the girl who was right under his nose and making her the Next Big Thing. Jack realizes he's made a mistake and launches his Get Becky Back Campaign unsuccessfully. Carlo and Becky get married, but Carlo is actually gay and Becky is just marrying him to be his beard. One of Jack's models is addicted to cocaine and also has (it's implied) some sort of PTSD/weird sexual feelings about her dad's incestuous overtures towards her. The cocaine is possibly a fix for his. Carlo's dad figures out he's gay and is disgusted. Jack is the new favorite. Carlo is publicly humiliated. Carlo ends his life. Becky and Jack are together.

Also, Zoe ends up in a rehab center. No more cocaine for you!

This was... a lot. The book was loooooong, too. Almost 400+ pages. I kind of figured Carlo was going to be killed off when Becky and Carlo get married in a civil ceremony because "it wouldn't be right for them to step into the house of God" (paraphrased). Yikes. Burying your gays is a real trope, guys. I'm deducting a star just for that, even if it was the 90s, because I liked Carlo a lot by the end of the book and his friendship with Becky was quite touching. Jack actually isn't too awful of a hero. He's genuinely charming until like the last 10% of the book, when he can't seem to dislodge his head from his ass. A lot of the twists are of the "gotcha!" variety, but there is some nice foreshadowing and call-backs.

Overall, I think this was a decent read. Erica Spindler primarily writes mystery thrillers now, but her older books kind of straddle the line between romance and thriller. Someone gifted me several books from her backlist, and I plan on reading them soon because I really did enjoy this one, even though it's incredibly problematic by today's standards. Becky is far more empowered than most comparable heroines of this era and it was really fun to see her get revenge by living well. When she told off her brother for allowing her rape to happen and then trying to rub elbows with her once she was famous, I wanted to cheer. When he tells her that he reported another rape to try and redeem himself, she isn't having it, and she's like, "You should have done it because it was the right thing to do, you motherfucker," (paraphrasing with artistic liberties) and I was like YAAAAAAAAASS.

I think this is the first time that anyone in the history of ever has ever said, "GO BECKY!"

(A moment of silence for all Beckys out there whose honor is unfairly impugned.)

So, yeah. If you like glitter-painted trash and Jackie Collins, don your oversized sunglasses and extra-strong margarita, because you're in for a wild and crazy ride.

3 out of 5 stars

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