Saturday, July 10

Some Nerve - Jane Heller

Ann Roth is a celebrity journalist based in LA, but unlike most, she has a strong sense of ethics - she doesn't twist the truth, report on rumour and innuendo, and she doesn't stoop to sneaky tricks. But times are tight and magazine budgets tighter. When Famous magazine's editor Harvey tells her she needs to land Hollywood's most impossible 'get,' and interview with press-hostile actor Malcolm Goddard, he makes it clear that failure to deliver will result in a one-way flight back to Middletown, Missouri. It takes a little planning, a flash of inspired deviousness, and the recalling of a few debts, but Ann manages a brief chat with an expansive Malcolm - until he realises she's not a besotted fan, at which point he throws a tantrum. Contrary to her ethics though it is, Ann uses the scene to finagle an actual interview from Malcolm's publicist, Peggy.
The only hitch is that Malcolm insists on it being on his small plane, while he's piloting. And Ann's deathly phobic of flying. Despite her best efforts, she can't make it on board, and Ann returns to the small town where she grew up. She moves back into her childhood home, where her mother, aunt and grandmother have various phobias and fears, and she feels herself fading. Until a school mate (who still burns for her but for whom she never felt a flicker), now assistant chief of staff at Middletown's prestigious hospital, lets slip that Malcolm Goddard's scheduled for admission for investigation of a few worrying symptoms, under an assumed name. A little planning, a little subterfuge and a little revenge on the man who purposefully ended her career and Ann could have her job back. But at what cost?
Some Nerve is intended as a meet-cute romance, with a few unusual stumbling blocks on the way to the Happy Ever After, where Ann and Malcolm are united, both better, stronger people for the experience. The premise is not bad, and the secondary plot of medical malfeasance was entertaining, but I found Ann profoundly irritating and quite immature for a thirty-one year old. Some of that comes from my inability to understand why Ann didn't work on resolving her phobia earlier, and a little impatience with the strongly emphasised phobia sub-plot - Ann has fear of flying, of sickness and hospitals, of vomiting (witnessing or doing), of medication side-effects, clowns, and peanut butter sticking to the roof of her mouth. Her grandmother is terrified of germs, her aunt is claustrophobic, and her mother is both agoraphobic and afraid of "heights, dogs, and dentists, and she would only ride on escalators if they were going up."
There were also a few minor errors that pulled me out of the narrative, like the use of emotophobia (fear of strong or negative emotions) instead of emetophobia (fear of vomiting) by a hypnotherapist who specialises in phobia therapy.
Most of all, I was irritated by the whole second half, where Ann becomes a candy-striper at this major hospital in the middle of nowhere. I found most of the hospital scenes unconvincing, and thought that if I were a nurse working on the wards where Ann floated about I'd ask the volunteer coordinator to pull her - she blocks the way of a crash team, gives advice to patients, and repeatedly fails to knock and wait for a response before entering patient's rooms. The first time she does this Ann walks in on a nude man receiving oral sex. Instead of exiting quietly and closing the door, she tries to stop them:

"You need to stop now," I said with more authority. "You could become a code blue, and it would be my fault if anything bad-"
"Faster, faster," he moaned to the woman, who seemed to me to be going fast enough.
"I'm not kidding," I said, fearing the guy might flatline on my watch and that I would be held responsible. "Please stop."

Then she calls security, causing "a SWAT team" to charge the room. Authority? Code blue? Flatline? And above all, her watch? From a candy-striper on her first day.
I did finish Some Nerve, and I enjoyed parts of it, but for the most part I found Ann annoying and Malcolm more a cipher than a rounded character. I'll try others of Heller's works in the future, but perhaps not for a while. - Alex

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