September 16, 2013
When I was looking for something to read recently, I pulled out a book that had been in my TBR pile for years, BET ME by Jennifer Crusie. Something a friend said about a memorable scene in that book had me curious, so I settled in for a light read and a good laugh. What I discovered was that Jennifer Cruise is a master of layers, of subtext and atmosphere.
BET ME is the story of Min Dobbs, an actuary with pounds to lose in order to fit into a bridesmaid’s dress for her sister’s wedding. One fateful night while out with her gal pals, not only is she dumped by her boyfriend, but she overhears her ex bet a love-’em-and-leave-’em lothario that he can’t get her into bed in a month. Mortified, Min decides to turn the tables, use the hot hunk for a few nice dinners out, a date for her sister’s wedding, and then leave him high and dry and the loser of the bet. She’s plans to be snarky and difficult and make The Beast, as she calls him, work for every inch of ground with her.
However, Cal ‘The Beast’ Morrisey matches her snark with patience and charm, feeds her carbs and tells her she’s beautiful without losing weight— and sounds sincere doing it. Min finds herself falling for him despite her better judgement. Much to her surprise, Min finds in Cal, someone who loves her at face value, who sees the real Min and helps her love herself without hiding under ugly clothes and other people’s opinions of who she should be.
The story is touching, funny and full of tissue-worthy romance. Those qualities alone make this a great book worth picking up, but there is more going on here than meets the eye. As I read the scenes between Min and Cal, I started noticing the clever subtext Crusie used and the layers of emotion woven through the clever dialogue and steamy sexual tension.
For example, when Min and Cal meet at the park for lunch and to discuss their friends who have started dating, Crusie has so much more happening in this scene than just two people discussing whether they approve of each others’ friends. Cal temps Min into indulging in foods she loves and finds her enjoyment erotic. But he’s also helping to discover that her love of good food is not something she should deny, her full figure not something to be ashamed of. He shows her delicious food is a joy she can embrace and savor for the simple pleasure of it. Min’s been so busy pleasing everyone else and trying to live up to what others say about her, she’s lost sight of enjoying life on her own terms. Force feeding her doughnuts turns into their first kiss…and a bit more.
Meanwhile, he’s noticing simple things –from the brush of her skirt against his fingers to the peek of her red lace bra–all of which hearken back to a conversation Min had with her mother about what kind of underclothes Min “should” be wearing. The fact that Cal appreciates and admires her frivolous shoes takes on a new layer when you realize they are the only thing in Min’s life that are truly an expression of her heart, her tastes, her fun side.
The scene on the surface is about sizing up each other’s friends, protecting their friends form potential heartache, but in the end the scene was more about Min and Cal discovering more about each other, about themselves, about letting go of inhibitions and expectations and being yourself. And Crusie does it all while weaving in a steamy seduction, dry wit, and a feast for the senses. I could taste those brats and doughnuts, by golly!
So when is a scene not just another scene? When the author seamlessly adds subtext, layers of emotion, symbolism and character development without the reader noticing. Sure, I noticed…because I’m a writer, and I was looking for the subtext and layers that my friend had mentioned.
Do you have a favorite scene from a movie or book where the subtext craftily gives the reader an extra layer of meaning and depth?