I'm with Stupid

Elaine Szewczyk
2008, Chick Lit
5 Spot, $13.99, 336 pages, Amazon ASIN 0446582476

Grade: B-
Sensuality: Warm

In real life, it's not usually all that funny when someone's intellectual prowess is seriously lacking. Say, for example, you find yourself explaining to someone that Montana is not part of Wyoming (as previously believed) but is in fact a separate state. Yes, this happened to me, and the details are more depressing than amusing. Somehow, though, in a book this can be side-splittingly funny. I'm with Stupid chronicles the aftermath of the heroine's one night stand with a (stupid) South African park ranger. While it's not perfect, it's entertaining – and at times completely hilarious.

Kas (who like many chick lit heroines, works in publishing - and the book's author is actually the editor at Kirkus Reviews) is coming off a bad breakup with a scummy, two-timing guy. Matters come to a head when she runs into him on Valentine's Day and discovers that while he was dating her, he was actually engaged to someone else. Happily, she is about to leave for a distracting trip to South Africa with her two best friends, Max (a bit stereotypical in his "gay best friend role) and Libby (Max's bored, lazy, jobless cousin).

When they arrive at the safari/resort area, all three of them notice one thing: William, a blindingly gorgeous park ranger. Each angles for his affections, even Max (despite the fact that Libby's flawless gaydar proclaims William to be straight). And even though men are usually more drawn to Libby, William actually expresses an interest in Kas. Max begins to help her out, talking up Kas's publishing job so she seems like a powerful player in the book industry. On their last night there, Kas goes for it, and she and William sleep together. She figures she'll never see him again (what with him living halfway around the world and all), so what the hell. The next morning, they try to be subtle as they part (William has an eagle-eyed boss named Helga, and fraternizing with guests is strictly prohibited), but Max throws Kas's business card into William's hand.

I should add at this point that while they are on their safari adventure, they meet a determined 17-year-old from Mexico named Manuel. Manuel is completely enamored of Libby, and makes himself obnoxious with his endless attempts to impress Libby with his vast wealth. This is a plot undercurrent that should be extraneous, but ends up becoming important later.

When Kas gets back to New York, she must solve a family crisis (her dad, who owns and operates a Polish deli, has injured himself, and Kas needs to help out). Soon thereafter, she opens her e-mail and discovers a message from William that proclaims: "Helgas onto/us!!!!!%$^&#!!!!will". Apparently Max failed to mention that he wrote on the back of the business card ("Thanks for last night. Your dick is HUGE!"). William has been fired (or as he puts it, "saked") and is on his way to New York to visit. What follows is the best part of the book. Kas realizes from William's e-mails that he is a complete idiot. The e-mails and her reaction to them are absolutely hysterical.

William arrives in New York, no longer wearing a sexy park ranger outfit; instead he has a comprehensive collection of hideous, brightly colored track suits. He reveals that Kas is his true love, and he sets about writing his important first book, all about the "dangerous political situation in Monaco." He is every bit as stupid as his emails implied. As Kas tries to disengage from William (who now wants to be called Willy…Willy Johnson), she and her best friends continue to exact revenge on her previous boyfriend, and improbably, the find themselves face to face with the annoying Manuel.

Overall, I really enjoyed this book. Most of it is pretty funny. Though the humor peaks with William's ridiculous e-mails (which, let's face it, are redolent of the type of lame, grammar-impaired message board post that all of us have seen a time or two), there are a lot of laughs to be found here. Kas has an appealing everywoman quality about her, and her internal monologue is probably the best thing about this book.

I also found that I particularly enjoyed Kas's Polish family and her observations about them. All of it was completely outside my experience, and very interesting. The insights about family relationships are worthwhile and entertaining.

But the book occasionally went awry for me. Mostly that a factor of the plot's meandering nature - there's a point to most of it, but the author is in no hurry to get there. The other issue is that while I liked Max and Libby, I found their characters to be improbable. Their sole occupation is "Kas's friend." The whole angle of Manuel showing up in New York was less believable still.

That said, I'm with Stupid is precisely the type of book I look for when I want a Chick Lit fix. It was light, at times hilarious, and generally fun. For the most part, the meandering seemed like a small price to pay.

-- Blythe Barnhill

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