Chasing Perfect- Susan Mallery

As a fan of romance novels (and a former devotee of soap operas), I am willing to put up with quite a bit of angst, WTFery, and cliches.  Really, I am.  But every now and then something tips the scales.  Faults I might normally forgive instead leave me punching the book in anger.  (I don’t throw books because that would mean I’d have to get up and retrieve them, which is far too much work to put in.)  Chasing Perfect was a book-punching book for me.

Charity moves to Fool’s Gold, CA to become the town’s new city planner in the wake of a relationship gone wrong when a background check revealed her boyfriend was engaged to another woman.  Charity feels she’s inherited her mother’s terrible taste in men and wants nothing more than to settle down and make a home in one place, after a childhood of moving around constantly.  So she decides she needs a nice, normal man in her life because that’s what she wants– a boring, ordinary life.  Instead, she meets and falls for Josh Golden, a former Tour de France winner and ex-husband of Angelique, the gorgeous movie star.  Josh is NOT a regular guy, like Charity wants.  He’s famous and has girls begging to get in his bed.  But Josh does have demons of his own.  His protege died during a race ten years ago and Josh faces overwhelming guilt and anxiety about racing.

Josh decides he needs to face his fears head-on, to prove to himself that he’s not a quitter (or something).  So he enters a charity bike race being held in town.  Charity thinks this means he wants to return to the racing circuit and that he wants the life of fame again– including all the bike-groupie sex.  Their massive miscommunication comes to a head when Charity ends up oops-pregnant and Josh takes off without explanation, only a promise that he’ll be there for Charity and the baby.  They, of course, make up when they actually communicate their wants/needs to one another and everybody gets a happily ever after.

What I couldn’t bear about this book was that the big stumbling block in this relationship was the lack of communication.  Charity makes these ridiculous assumptions about what Josh wants out of life and instead of confronting him or communicating with him (despite the fact her friends keep telling her he’s not a mind-reader), she just decides he can’t be the man she wants him to be and writes him off.  Then again, Josh seems to know what’s bugging Charity, but refuses to tell her what’s actually is motivating him to enter the bike race.  I know this is the stuff of romance novel cliche, but I just couldn’t believe these two were in love when they couldn’t even communicate with or trust one another.

Charity is also an incredibly inconsistent character.  Within the course of two pages, she goes from being overly-trusting (the regular guy she dated, but had no chemistry with turns out to be a criminal) to being slow-to-trust (explaining why she doesn’t trust Josh to do the right thing about the baby).

And then I had an issue with how Josh’s emotional problems were presented.  His anxiety surrounding racing sounded a lot like PTSD or at the very least panic attacks, but he is able to simply solve his ten-year-long emotional problems by toughing it out, refusing to seek psychological treatment because that is the “weak” thing to do.  I disagree with the idea that mental illnesses (like PTSD or anxiety disorders) can or should be solved through “toughing it out.” Seeking appropriate treatment for mental illness is a difficult enough step without it being stigmatized as “weak” and “unmanly” in pop culture.

What I did like about this book was the setting.  Fool’s Gold is one of those small towns filled with interesting characters (like the bartender with a mysterious past and warring hairdressing sisters) and secrets and yet everybody knows everything about everyone else.  Also, there is a somewhat hilarious “problem” facing Fool’s Gold: a man shortage.  This leads to some funny conversations for Charity and will set up some interesting scenarios in future books, I am sure (this is the first in a series).

But while I liked setting, the main characters and plot felt overly cliched to the point that this was more frustrating to read than anything.  I wasn’t invested in the characters’ love story and that’s really the whole point of a romance novel.  Plain and simple, Chasing Perfect was far from perfect for me.