Pandora's Box

A Little Change of Face

Lauren Baratz-Logsted
2005, Chick Lit
Red Dress Ink, $12.95, 328 pages, Amazon ASIN 0373895259

Grade: N/A
Sensuality: N/A

Scarlett Jane Stein is a 39 year old woman who sometimes feels that she has skated through life. She has a pretty-good job as a librarian, and easily gets dates with attractive men. But when she has a bout with chicken pox, a pushy friend encourages her to try an experiment: Will men still like her if she makes herself less attractive? Scarlett decides to change her looks and her job to see if she can find someone who likes her for her personality rather than her looks. But she finds that they are more entertwined than she orginially thought. As she meets two different men and catalogues the reactions of others to her new persona, she learns a lot about herself and her relationships with others.

Blythe:   This month we are discussing a Chick Lit novel - something a little different for Pandora. The book in question is A Little Change of Face by Lauren Baratz-Logsted. I'd read another of her books - The Thin Pink Line - and thought this one would make for an interesting disucssion. Oddly enough, my reaction to this book is very similar to the reaction I had to that earlier title - I enjoyed the writing style and often found it hilarious, but I also found it completely unbelieveable. What did you think, Linda?

Linda:   How did I loath it? Let me count the ways! First the heroine was: immature, immoral and imbecilic. Everything else was down hill from there. It was totally unbelievable that Scarlett was 39 - she sounded like she was in Junior High, as did all of her friends. I have a daughter in that age group and thank God she is nothing like these idiots.

Blythe:   LOL! I didn't think it was that bad at all - just completely unbelieveable. I agree that the heroine sounded nowhere near 39, and I'm not exactly sure why the author didn't just make her 22 or something. Did she necessarily have to be 39? Do you think that was essential to the plot in any way? Granted, I'd still have trouble believing that a woman of any age would deliberately make herself less attractive, or make such a serious job change. Scarlett is a more-attractive-than average woman who deliberately makes herself dowdy. She buys a bunch of baggy, unattractive dresses to hide her spectacular figure, cuts her gorgeous, long, black hair into a shaggy, nondescript style, and then for the coup de grace she actually quits her job as a librarian and takes a new job in a different library (pretending to be less expereinced than she actually is). She even changes her name from Scarlett to Lettie.

Linda:   Well, prior to opening the book, I looked forward to reading a reverse-ugly-duckling story, but by the time I had read about Scarlett's "spectacular breasts" for a whole chapter and her obviously backstabbing friend Pam, I was pretty turned off. I persevered, but it didn't get much better. To me Scarlett came across as inane and the equal in "sluthood" to Sex and The City's Samantha. They share another thing in common. These weren't women - they were men in drag in an emotional sense.

Blythe:   For some reason I wasn't put off by Scarlett's attitude toward her breasts (or her looks at all, for that matter). I didn't think that she was necessarily snotty because of it. She never seemed to think that she was "better" becasue she was better looking. But then why was her friend such a bitch? And why couldn't her friend be a pretty bitch, if she had to be one? I never really thought of them as being man-like, though. Was it their attitudes about sex that made them give off that vibe for you?

Linda:   Yes, women who indiscriminately sleep around with no emotional attachments seem like men to me - at least emotionally. The ending left me cold as well - I am always looking for a happy ending, but even without the HEA ending after I have invested my time in a book I at least want a resolution to the story - some pay off there.

Blythe:   Well, it did leave you hanging a bit, but I wasn't really bothered by that - I just felt like she eventually got together with Steve. She sees two different men during her "experiment." One of them, Saul, is a superficial man who calls her at first because he feels sorry for her, and then sleeps with her after he sees her in a revealing Halloween costume. The other, Steve, meets her while she's at work and genuinely likes her. Her dishonestly eventually catches up with her, though, and there are problems with her relationship at the end (along with an unexpected twist).

Did you find any of it funny? Parts to me were just hilarious. My biggest laugh was over the heroine's "post office" game. This isn't the traditional kissing game; Scarlett plays this in the actual post office. While she's there, she assesses the relative attractiveness of every woman in the place (except the employees, who have to wear uniforms and are at a disadvantage). She ranks them all in order of attractiveness, and usually comes out happy with her place in the female pecking order. Only this time, after she's dowdied herself down a bit, she doesn't make a great showing.

I found it pretty funny because I actually play a more democratic version of this game myself (my job for AAR has me at the post office often). My version is "Does anyone here have on a decent pair of jeans?" Anyone can win this one as long as they are wearing a good pair of jeans for their body type. And btw, the heroine, with her aversion to low-rise jeans, would lose. <g>

Linda:   LOL, I found this all sooooo Junior High. Perhaps if the heroine had been fifteen or sixteen I could have bought it, but 39?? I think her age had a large part in turning me off, everything from her dress, to her speech to her choice of friends and activities just seemed unbelievably immature for someone nearly forty. Frankly, I did not like Baratz-Logsted's breezy writing style much either. I just never could really get into the story, kept thinking they were all a bunch of idiots who needed to get a life.

Blythe:   It was a little (okay a lot) junior high at times, but I still found it funny, and I really like her writing style. I thought the heroine's group of friends was fairly typical for a Chick Lit book. Often, these books place more of an emphasis on female friendship than romances do, there seems to be more examination of the roles friends play in our lives. Now granted, I thought Scarlett's "default best friend" Pam was shallow and annoying at best, and I thought she should have been demoted to "occasional acquaintance." However, I could identify with the idea of having a default best friend. I had a friend when I lived in New Orleans who did everything with me, mostly because we lived close to each other and had kids the same age. But she could really get on my last nerve too, and I probably would not have been friends with her in high school or college.

Linda:   I thought letting Pam be her default best friend was stupid on Scarlett's part. It seemed strange when she describes how Pam "courted" her for her friendship and just kind of gave in to being Pam's friend. Perhaps my problem was that I couldn't relate at all to Scarlett - I would have been busy everytime Pam called, and less and less polite with each call until she got the message that I wasn't interested in being her friend. To just give in to flattery and then put up with a jerk like Pam was not smart. It also cheapened the "ugly duckling" premise becuase it so obviously grew out of Pam's jealousy and spite rather than something Scarlett came up with herself.

Blythe:   I can't disagree with you, which is why my reaction to this book (and her earlier release) was mixed. My hanging out with a sort of annoying woman who lived by me makes sense, but why couldn't Scarlett just have been friends with T.B. (another woman in her circle), since she obviously liked her more? There's really wasn't much reason for her to hang out with Pam. Eventually, well, very eventually, Pam gets what she deserves from Scarlett.

Here's another question though - did you ever wonder why "best girlfriend" - the heroine's best friend from college and her true soule mate, who lives in another city - had no name? She is always just referred to as "best girlfriend."

Linda:   Yes, I found that annoying also, which was part of my problem with the whole style of this book - I just found it annoying. In general, first person POV is not one of my favorites - I like third person better - but I've also enjoyed plenty of first person books. Perhaps the same people who love Sex and the City (like my daughter) will like this book more then I did. Given the book's publisher (Red Dress Ink), there's a strong likelihood that this will be shelved in Romance rather than Fiction and I think it will disappoint others as it did me.

Blythe:   Why do I think I am coming across in this particular chat as Blythe, your immature and vain co-columnist? I've actually never seen Sex and the City - I don't have HBO. So I don't know what I would think of it.

Also, first person POV is a huge plus in my book. I don't mind third person, and I think it does often work better in Romance, but I love when a Romance has first person POV. I don't know if Joan Wolf still writes hers that way, but she used to, and I liked it.

Have you read much Chick Lit in general, or do you tend to avoid it?

Linda:   I do tend to avoid Chick-Lit. As a long-time married woman I just have trouble relating to these women, who seem to have no emotional involvement in their sexual relations. As I said, to me they seem like slutty men. I think an interesting, but sad book could be written about these same women when they are in their 50s - lonely, emotionally isolated and looking back at wasted lives. In this book's case, the heroine was so off-putting and idiotic that I could never relate or root for her in any way. It has been a long time since I have read a book I disliked this much. I had to turn to a comfort read to get the taste out of my mouth.

Blythe:   I wouldn't call myself a Chick Lit fiend, exactly, but I find the occasional book that interests me, and because I am pretty selective when I pick them out, I've had decent luck with them. I really haven't read that many, though - maybe a dozen. And we get a lot of them in, and many on AAR's review staff enjoy them. I skip the ones that sound really tired. Many of them have some variation of the plot where the heroine loses her job and her boyfriend/fiance and has to figure out life from there. I don't see that as much different than the ubiquitous Women's Fiction plot with the middle aged woman who thinks she has the perfect life until her husband runs off with a younger woman. But if you weed through, you can find some good reads. I enjoyed Michelle Cunnah's 32 AA, The Pajama Game by Eugenie Seifer Olsen, and of course, the book that started it all - Bridget Jones's Diary.

Btw, I kind of figure that most of these Chick Lit heroines will grow up and settle down, eventually. So apparently I have more patience with them than you do.

Linda:   I would be willing to try more Chick Lit and can see enjoying a "finding herself" book - with one big proviso - the woman can't be an idiot! Scarlett was just as dumb as dirt, but perhaps the real problem with the entire book for me was the heroine's age? Yes, if these women were 20-somethings one could assume they would grow up, but these women are nearly forty...they should have already done so!

I could have tolerated her more had she been a decade (at least) younger. But, if 39 was the author's choice then she should have written about real 39 year old women. As I recall, (and it was a long time ago) when I was pushing forty I was not worrying about my breasts, looks etc. But, I think my true problem wih Chick Lit is the same problem I had with the Bombshell books: I like a story to be resolved in one book and I like a romantic relationship with a happy ending. That is also why I don't read a lot of Women's Fiction - especially when it is described as "bittersweet". Shallow person that I am <G>, give me a good old fashioned love story with a happy ending. But even with all that said, if I like an author's style and characters I am willing to follow almost anywhere. In this case, I really disliked everything.

Blythe:   I tend to avoid Women's Fiction myself, mostly becasue I don't really want to read about how someone's happily ever after wasn't so darn happy after all. We see enough of that in real life. But the more ambiguous Chick Lit books can sometimes appeal to me. I'd love to hear your reaction to The Pajama Game. If it's any incentive, it does have a pretty happy ending. And maybe you'd like Julie Kenner's more Chick Lit-ish books, since you've enjoyed her as a romance author?

But I'd have to warn you off Baratz-Logsted's other book - believe it or not, the heroine of that one fakes a pregnancy - for nine months! Anyway, I kind of enjoyed some of the ideas this book brought up. I think many women have a love/hate relationship with their looks and their bodies, and though the plot of this book was outlandish (to say the least) I think the author made some interesting points. And before I forget, I have to add an aside about the heroine's name. At the very beginning of the book, she says, "My mother had the b_lls to name me Scarlett." She doesn't really care for her name at all, even though perhaps it suits her. The funny thing is that as you know, my oldest daughter is named Scarlett. Unlike the heroine, however, my Scarlett likes her name.

Linda:   I am glad Scarlett is happy with her name, but if kids are determined, they can come up with nicknames for any name. My daughter is a case in point, her name is Launa (Lawnuh) and was called Lawnmower, Enchelawna, and Marilawna while in grade school. But, funniest name came from one of her co-workers: Osama Bin Launa! Luckily, she has a great sense of humor and laughs whenever a nickname comes up.

Blythe:   It was after I read this book that I asked Scarlett if she liked her name. If she didn't she sure would have told me; she's 13, and she enjoys telling me exactly what she thinks about everything ( because after all, she knows everything, just like I did when I was thirteen). I did have passing worries that her classmates would tell her that frankly they just didn't give a damn, but I don't think younger people read or watch Gone with the Wind much these days, because it's never come up.

Linda:   Earlier you mentioned Julie Kenner - I did thoroughly enjoy The Givenchy Code, another new Chick Lit novel, mainly because I liked the characters a lot and the author's quick wit never fails to amuse me. Not to mention it also had a non-stop exciting and compelling plot, something else which is definitely missing from ALCF. As to your point that Chick Lit dwells on women's friendship's more then straight Romance, I think that Nora Roberts has shown throughout the years - and in her latest series - that great friendship and romance can be combined. The three women in The Blue Dahlia and The Black Rose dominated the books and I thoroughly enjoyed them...I can hardly wait for the release of the last book in the series.

Blythe:  Yes, when I think about romance authors who write about female friendships, Roberts is one of the few authors who even comes to mind. I think many authors concentrate more on male friendships...perhaps becuase they provide sequel material? Or maybe they think women are more interested in getting a sneak peek into male bonding.

Linda:   One of my pet peeves is that much too often a romance couple seems to exist in a vacuum. Men and women who have no friends and no family. What is wrong with these people that no one likes them?? My favorite authors make their character's relationships with others an important feature of their books. Jayne Ann Krentz's characters in particular, always have a "family" of one sort or another in her books and their relationships with others are great clues to their own basic character. JAK also explores the role of fatherhood in her books and her heroes are not men who pride themselves on having no attachments at all - unlike last month's PB author Diana Palmer. Palmer's characters are often depicted as not having a soul in the world who loves them, which may be poignant, but also makes one wonder about them a bit.

Blythe:  Well, I'm sorry this was such a bust for you! It wasn't a favorite for me, but I found it funny enough that I'd read another by this author. What's up for next month?

Linda:   I figure this book will botch my reputation of being the nice one here who likes everything she reads. LOL. Next month we are reading Lyon's Gate, a Catherine Coulter historical about the second generation of Sherbrookes. Coulter can be a mixed bag for me, I have a number of her books on my keeper shelf and others that I absolutely loathed. But, in fairness, with the exception of Rosehaven, the books by Coulter that I hate were written in the 80s when women's sensibilities and expectations of a Romance were different. Problem is they keep reissuing these old books with snazzy new covers a la Johanna Lindsey! I have high hopes for this Coulter though, as I loved last year's Sherbrooke Twins.

Blythe:   I've liked Coulter in the past, but have been burned on some of those reissues. I haven't read her in awhile, so this should be interesting. And this time, I really will see you next month (or later this month) as we plan to meet and room together at RWA.

Linda:   Yes, I am really looking forward to RWA. See you soon.

--Blythe Barnhill and Linda Hurst, for

-- Pandora's Box

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