Bet Me by Jenifer Crusie is touted as a fat-positive rom com. Out at a bar with her two best friends, Minverva is unceremoniously dumped by boyfriend David because she hasn’t slept with him during the few months they’ve dated. Because Min’s not too broken up about it, her friend Liza encourages Min to speak to the handsome man across the bar.
That handsome man is Calvin, who is at the bar with his two best friends. You may see where that is going. But before Min is brave enough to approach Cal, he is approached by David, who declares Min a frigid grump. Knowing Cal can’t resist a good bet, David wagers $10,000 worth of work if Cal can get Min in bed within a month. Fortunately, Cal isn’t gross, so he refuses the bet and declares David is gross. David backs off, betting $10 instead that Cal can’t take Min to dinner. Cal accepts.
From there, we get a lot of your standard romance novel: Min as the aggressive man hater, Cal as the commitment-phobic womanizer, and the best friends trying to make the main characters realize their attempts to refuse love is futile.
However, there are some differences from other romance/chick-lit novels. Yes, Min’s sweet friend, Bonnie, and Cal’s dopey friend, Roger, fall in love and want to get married. But Min’s vagabond friend, Liza, and Cal’s forever-the-bachelor friend, Tony, don’t. Instead, Liza and Tony provide moral support and humor. I half expected this book to end in three weddings, but Cruise avoids the Shakespearean wrap up.
Bet Me also avoids a ton of silly mix ups and miscommunications. Problems don’t linger for more than a couple of days, and nothing dramatically changes the course of those plot is those silent days. For instance, Min overheard David ask Cal about a bet on her, but didn’t hear Cal refuse it. She wonders about the bet, but isn’t plagued by it. She asks her girlfriends their opinions:
“Why didn’t you just ask him about the bet?” Liza said.
“I did,” Min said.
“You said, ‘Did you make a bet with David that you could sleep with me in a month?’ “
“No,” Min said, not meeting her eyes. “I ask him if there was anything he wasn’t telling me.”
Bonnie nodded. “And what did he say?”
Min sat back. “He kept confessing to things that weren’t the bet.”
“That must have been fun for everyone,” Liza said.
Crusie’s talent for natural dialogue makes this an engaging read and helps me remember who’s who. I easily recall thirteen characters to varying degree thanks to their excellent dialogue. Even a secondary character like David has a memorable personality (though he’s a sleaze!) —
“Very hot,” [David’s] assistant said from the doorway. He sniffed the air. “Wow. Is that her perfume?”
“Yes,” David said, picking up his phone. “It’s brimstone. Don’t let her in here again.”
Crusie’s descriptions of the characters, simple but memorable, gave me good depictions without anyone being too specific. Min’s dad “. . .had the vaguely paranoid look of a sheepdog whose sheep were plotting against him.” Likewise, because the characters have favorite hangouts (one bar, one restaurant, Min’s apartment building, a little league field), it’s easy to picture the setting, too. Overall, Bet Me is quite a visual novel.
Because this is a book about a fat female character, I need to discuss Crusie’s depiction of her. Min is where she is on her journey to fat acceptance, and that’s not far along. She realizes her mother is a fat-shaming bully. She diets, which means no carbs, butter, or sugar, so she can fit into her maid-of-honor dress for her sister’s upcoming wedding. When Min goes on and on about what she can’t eat, Cal says, “. . .this conversation is boring.” Cal isn’t vocal about fat- and food-shaming only when he’s around Min. Even before he really knows her, he calls out those who use casual fat shaming:
“Oh, you were talking about the chub?” Tony said.
“Don’t call her that,” Cal said. “Her name is Min. She’s a good woman, apart from her rage.”
I know Bet Me isn’t about an empowered character, but it captures a time when a person has to remove toxic voices from her life and become empowered. Thus, there is diet talk and fat shaming, mostly from Min’s mother, but it was something I could power through (it does sting to read, though) because Min was forging ahead on her journey with the support of her friends. I’d like more books, though, in which fat women are already empowered.
I found Bet Me by Jennifer Crusie compulsively readable, and while Min isn’t full accepting of her fat body, she’s on her way there.