By J. J. Salem
In the interest of full disclosure and honesty I have to admit that “beach thrillers” aren’t my usual book of choice. I do live in California, so obviously beach reading is an essential summer activity, but I’ve never touched a Jackie Collins book and Sophie Kinsella does absolutely nothing for me. But there was a lot of buzz surrounding Tan Lines so I thought, why not? I’ll give it a shot.
There’s a lot going on in Tan Lines, a novel focusing on three friends vacationing in the Hamptons one steamy summer. First there’s Billie, a rock star struggling to keep her star on the rise. Her love of sex and drugs fits her bad girl image perfectly, but it’s also ruining her career. But at least she has a career. Poor little Kellyanne went to Hollywood to be a movie star but couldn’t get her career off the ground so she’s been reduced to playing mistress for a wealthy businessman and waiting tables. Liza is Kellyanne’s polar opposite; a media darling whose biting wit and fashionable feminism has made her millions. Her current crusade is against a movie called Watch Her Bleed, a slasher flick in which all the women are strong and successful - and by the end of the movie, all of them have been brutally murdered. Liza finds this anti-women message appalling, and she wants the world to know. The women rent a place in the Hamptons together, but things spiral out of control as fashion and passion collide in a miasma of sexy fun time. We know there was a murder – this is revealed in the prologue – but who gets killed?
Sigh. Like I said, this isn’t normally my genre, so my reaction may be a bit extreme and off the mark. Also, if you were planning to read this book the next few paragraphs may be pretty spoiler-riffic, so feel free to skip them. Just click on the cover of Tan Lines up there on the right and you’re good. Now that the warning is out of the way, this is definitely the WORST BOOK I’VE READ THIS YEAR. I’ll dissect why I thought it was awful for each of the three main characters:
Billie (The Bad Girl): So Billie is addicted to her alcohol, her drugs, and getting laid. I get that. It happens to people. She’s also embarrassingly clingy; after sleeping with a man once (a man with a fiancée!) she’s convinced they’re a couple and calls his cell phone every day. She’s on a downward spiral to hell, and that’s fine. It makes a compelling read – will she clean herself up? Will she sell out? - Billie has the potential to be a very fascinating woman. But instead of coming off as a tragic, tormented artist she’s the ultimate trailer trash, fresh off an episode of Jerry Springer. Every single one of her bad decisions is dragged out with lurid sex scenes and endless expletives. She verbally abuses her friends and business associates; she’s not above physical violence, either. Frankly, she just isn’t likeable.
Also, we know Billie is royally screwed up. Again, as a character that’s fine, but what really irritated me about Salem’s book is that she’s the only druggie to suffer for it. A record executive who introduces her to crystal meth continues to have a fabulous career and lots of sex with gorgeous women. All the men who indulge in casual drug use are able to keep it under control. Only Billie the raging bitch-woman from hell falls apart.
Liza (The Smart One): After her campaign against a movie where the killer is targeting successful women it’s only ironic that Liza ends up murdered by a crazy stalker obsessed with the film. In J. J. Salem’s world, the only successful woman ends up dead. It figures. Can’t have those feminists taking over, right?
Liza’s husband hates her and takes out his aggression by sleeping with other men. He’s a huge man-whore, sleeping with their neighbor, Liza’s co-worker, and their divorce attorney. (Oh, but he’s not gay. Oh no. He’s just proving how manly and strong he is by dominating other men.) He’s a fireman, and his dislike for Liza seems to stem from the fact that she’s the breadwinner and keeps trying to change him to suit her needs. On the plus side he is really dedicated to his job and loves the excitement of fighting fires. In every other way he’s pretty much a huge dick.
Kellyanne (Poor Innocent): I think Kellyanne may be the only likeable person in the book. But before she can finally get her happy ending, she has to suffer. She’s on a humiliating reality TV show and eventually is forced out when she won’t have sex with the producer. Her sugar daddy treats her like an object. He has no consideration for her feelings or ambitions; all he cares about is that she spreads her legs whenever he’s in the mood. She’s the innocent bombshell from the South, eager to please every man with her sweet-hearted, girl-next-door charms.
Well, look. We’ve got three perfect archetypes: The Bad Girl, The Smart One, and The Innocent. A girl for every man, you could say. This book seems to have a scene for every guy’s sexual fantasy; even the gay guys have plenty of graphic action. I’m not too big on dirty sex every few pages, so it’s little wonder that I’m turned off the book, especially since I don’t find the characters appealing, and therefore don’t really care what happens to them. But there’s more to it, too.
I really, really hate name-dropping in books, and Tan Lineis crammed with it. Consider this excerpt:
It was after seven o’clock when she stopped writing. She rushed into the shower, put the dryer to her hair, applied her makeup, threw on a Yohji Yamamoto silk-and-cotton sailor blouse over Odyn jeans, slipped a few Van Cleef & Arpels diamond bracelets over both wrists, stepped into a pair of spike-heeled Gucci white leather pumps, and raced out the door, spraying Victor & Rolf’s Flowerbomb into the air as she walked through the mist.
At eight o’clock sharp, Liza arrived at the Palm at the Huntting Inn. She encountered Sarah Jessica Parker, Matthew Broderick, and Jessica and Jerry Seinfeld leaving as she entered. Taking in the dark paneled décor, she smiled at the caricatures of local notables and international stars that lined the walls. Billy Joel was up there. So was Steven Spielberg.
I don’t mind a few names here and there, but mentioning EVERY brand name of EVERY garment she’s wearing and her perfume? INFODUMP OVERLOAD!
Salem also mentions quite a few celebrities in that paragraph, which brings me to my next point. If you’re going to drop names, have the balls to call out everyone in your gossip. Hiding behind obvious innuendos just makes you look like a big coward who won’t own up to the shit you’re spreading. I am thinking of excerpts like this one:
He laughed sheepishly. “Actually, I’ve never wrecked a home…but I am a bit of a slut.”
“Anyone I know?” Liza inquired silkily.
Tom named a major movie star, an international sex god married to a world-famous actress and humanitarian. Together they had the devotion of the media and an exotic coterie of adopted children from faraway countries.
What, were you afraid that Brad Pitt’s gonna come punch you? (Or maybe Angelina Jolie? I bet she’s nasty when she’s pissed.) I can understand when a writer chooses not to name a celebrity because they’re trying to keep their book in a more ambiguous world. It makes it easier to introduce their characters as big players in the entertainment industry. I also know that sometimes writers will “make up” a celebrity character that is clearly meant to be someone famous. Think The Devil Wears Prada. Miranda Priestly is Anna Wintour and everybody knows it, but by removing the famous name Lauren Weisberger was able to say whatever she wanted. But instances like Salem’s reference above just smack of cowardice.
Oh well. I don’t read People Magazine or Us Weekly so I guess it’s no surprise I didn’t care for the celebrity references. And even though I love fashion, I’d rather the author took the time to describe what their characters are wearing instead of tossing out names and hoping I can make the outfit up myself.
I’m really not a feminist. I don’t really care that the porn industry objectifies women and guys can open all the doors they want for me. I’ll be someone’s damsel-in-distress; heck, I’ll stay home and clean the house while wearing high heels if that’s what my husband wants. (Actually, I would do that anyway. High heels make my legs look great.) My point is that I don’t go looking for things to offend me. But honestly, I think this book is offensive to women. It reduces them to stereotypes, objectifies them, and while the men enjoy successful careers and minimal consequences for bad behavior, the women all suffer and with the exception of Kellyanne they don’t get happy endings.
This was just a terrible read. Even the cover art is atrocious. In this one case, please, judge the book by its cover.