As she showed so convincingly in her Boo series, Rene Gutteridge knows how to have fun with a novel. This enjoyment is obvious in MY LIFE AS A DOORMAT (IN THREE ACTS), a Chick Lit romance that doesn't take itself too seriously.
Romance addicts and Chick Lit aficionados will find all the necessary elements of a good read here. Playwright Leah Townsend has a long-term romance of sorts going with Dr. Edward Crowse, professor of physics at Boston University, a cautious, punctual obsessive intellectual who is intentionally a stereotype. Leah is becoming tired of their relationship but still feels affection for Edward. Worse yet, her sister Kate, who has always been the black sheep of the family, has found a man who seems to be the catch of a lifetime. Her parents have turned their loving attention to her, and Leah is dealing with a full-fledged case of the green-eyed monster.
Of course, there's more. Leah's career anxiety is in overdrive. She's had one big hit, "The Twilight T-Zone," about the cosmetics industry, which was followed by a loser of a play, and then another stinker. Her pushy agent is driving her toward penning another blockbuster production --- or else. Throughout the book, Jodie Bellarusa, the fictional lead character of the anti-romantic play Leah is writing, amusingly talks back to her in italics, telling her what she wants. ("I really need more zest... Stop reigning me in.")
Protagonists are always more endearing if they have some sort of flaw, and Leah's most visible problem is that she "splotches" --- or blushes in patches --- whenever she's nervous or embarrassed. Gutteridge sprinkles this problem frequently throughout the story, which can become a bit much, but it does help us empathize with the character. (Leah's wardrobe choices fittingly revolve around wearing high necklines.) There's also the obligatory Chick Lit friend, Elisabeth Bates, a liberated mother of three children under six who's contemplating an affair with her neighbor, an out-of-work mechanic. Disaster is inevitable --- and it doesn't take much thinking to know who's going to get stuck babysitting the kids.
Leah, always a pleaser, begins to rebel a bit against some of the conformity of her life. An alarmed Edward enrolls Leah in a "conflict resolution" class, which provides some entertaining moments. Here, Leah meets conservative shock-jock radio personality Cinco Dublin. When Leah nerves herself to break things off with Edward (spurred partially by her attraction to Cinco), Edward does a surprise 180-degree turn --- offering to change himself, be more spontaneous, and woo Leah in a way to win her heart. Unable to disappoint him, Leah ends up engaged and planning a wedding, right down to the hot pink icing on the wedding cake.
Leah, ready to give up, tells Cinco, "My whole life I've been everybody's doormat, I guess you could say. I've never stood up for myself. But I haven't been completely weak, have I? Because I've taken great pride in the fact that all my ducks are in a row." And what it really boils down to is that Leah has no sense of self-worth, which is the discovery she'll make that will change her life. Leah finally understands that it's okay to disappoint people, if you're doing so for all the right reasons. And she makes changes in her life that we assume will lead to a more "happily ever after" ending.
Readers of the Boo series and Chick Lit fans new to Gutteridge's writing will find this a clean, fun, lighthearted read for the times you want to escape from the world for a while into an enjoyable book.
Reviewed by Cindy Crosby on March 7, 2006