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Wednesday, April 16, 2008

"Imagine Me and You" by Billy Mernit

Billy Mernit’s successfully leverages his career as a romantic comedy writer and teacher in his first novel, the engaging and funny “Imagine Me and You”.

The novel’s protagonist, Jordan Moore, is a struggling “rom-com” (romantic comedy) screen writer in Los Angeles whose script is being courted by a very “now” filmmaker. This should be a good thing, but Jordan’s marriage to his adored Italian wife, Isabella, is in grave danger. Because of his wife’s departure back to Italy, Jordan finds himself blocked in his ability to work on his script, thus endangering his movie deal as well. He is a man both cornered and desperate, about to lose everything that matters to him. What transpires is magical and unexpected: an imaginary mistress who becomes real, changing Jordan’s life in unimaginable ways.

Throughout “Imagine Me and You”, Mernit also leverages the typical rom-com storyline. In a satisfying hodge-podge of the expected plot rom-com twists and turns, Mernit makes sure that his romance-writing protagonist notices his own life plotting the course of a typical romantic comedy, making fun of both the genre and himself. The story reads as cleanly as if it were a movie. This book was fun to read, much like watching a movie in my head; I found myself utterly losing track of time.

Jordan’s journey of self-actualization was particularly engaging to me. The process of more deeply understanding one’s individuality is often painful and tedious. Middle age seems to be the common time to seek answers to “deeper” questions about identity and purpose. In journeying with Jordan, I found myself wondering if I am living a life true to myself. Mernit balances both levity with profundity, but not so much of either that the story loses its momentum.

All that said, the main characters were a little flat and not especially sympathetic (his minor characters flesh out more strongly), but the dialogue is good: witty and smart and real.

My only real criticism of this book is this: when the story begins, Jordan’s wife has only been gone two weeks. Most of the story’s tension is built around this agonizing two week separation. Truthfully, this just falls flat with me. Two weeks is way too short a period of time to convince me of the extent of desperation that Jordan feels. If the story had started with Isabella already having been gone two months, all the other resulting action and emotion would be more proportionate.

Given the breezy, warm, southern Californian setting of this novel, “Imagine Me and You” may just be the perfect summer read.


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