Friday, July 9, 2010

Temping Fate by Esther Friesner

I should have stopped reading this book about a third through, but it's about a high school girl who takes a job as a temp over summer break. I spent many years working as a professional temp, so I had to keep reading.

The book starts out well. Ilana's an unhappy high school kid, fresh back from a three-year trip to Africa where she contracted smallpox. She's allergic to eggs, her older sister is getting married and is driving the entire family insane with tantrums and wedding plans, and only one of her pre-trip friends is still her friend. Her parents won't stop pestering her about college.

Ilana takes the job at D.R. Temps because every other company in her small town has refused to hire her--possibly something to do with the skull she drew on her own face in a moment of boredom, although she didn't realize at the time that she was using indelible ink. It turns out, though, that the D.R. of D.R. Temps stands for Divine Relief--and Ilana's first job is filling in for the Fates of Greek myth.

It's a fun, fast-paced setup, and while Ilana sometimes strays too far across the line from funny to annoying, she's also likable. At least, she is in the first part of the book.

At some point, the book simply falls apart. All the issues raised in the opening--Ilana's relationship with her sister, her father's guilt that he didn't insist Ilana get the smallpox vaccine before their trip, Ilana's loneliness and unhappiness--just get dropped. Subplots pop up and disappear again. The plot wanders around and culminates in a big, confusing, drawn-out fight during the wedding. Nothing makes sense, nothing is resolved. Characters act illogically, abruptly changing emotional gears for no reason; Ilana's interesting quirkiness in the beginning of the book vanishes into the morass of interchangeable quirky characters who all act alike, talk alike, and have the same sassy sense of humor.

A big issue in the middle of the book concerns the Fates giving Ilana a new duty that requires her to check life-spindles and make careful changes to them. Ilana is annoyed at the tone her boss takes with her, and promptly hauls out her sister's life-spindle and saves her from being hit by a truck. She also messes with her own life-spindle, wrecks the office, and basically screws things up. When the Fates find out...well, in any other book, there might have been a moment of tension. In this book, the Fates discuss things for a few paragraphs and decide that, you know, it's all cool. Oh, and they tell Ilana it's okay to interfere with people's lives via the life-spindles, and in fact they show her how and encourage her to do so. Ilana gets revenge on a sleazy boy at school, manipulates people into accommodating her sister's wedding plans, and rewards people she likes. The only caveat is that Ilana should never interfere with more than three lives in a single day or else, but it's okay, because she never does and we never find out what might have happened if she had.

At one point, Ilana has a heartfelt talk with her sister and I really thought the book would get back on track. But after the heartfelt talk, things go right back to where they were before the talk. What the hell? This goes beyond sloppy writing and neglectful editing and straight into 'how was this published at all'? In hardback, for God's sake. By Dutton.

This is a really bad book. I'd go on with more examples of why, but I think I've made my point and I've begun to rant. I'll just add that on top of all the book's other flaws, it's also boring.

B&N link

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