Love and Pollination by Mari Jane Law

Hot Off the Presses scours the internet for newly published debut books from unknown authors, and saves everyone else the trouble of actually reading books to find out if they’re good or not. New posts every Tuesday. This is meant for entertainment purposes only, not serious consumer advice. And there will be spoilers.

Oh, boy! My first real-life grown-up book tour! I feel like I should make some kind of clarifying statement about receiving money to review this book, but they didn’t pay me anything so I can’t. Nevertheless, your girl is big time now. If you try to call me, prepare to be deflected by my secretary who has strict instructions not to interrupt me at the ashram. As opposed to what currently happens when people try to call me, which is that I don’t pick up because I’m nervous, then I feel bad that I haven’t called you back until finally I am so paralyzed with guilt that I delete your number and pretend my phone is broken. Speaking of social dysfunction, Love and Pollination is a tongue-in-cheek romantic comedy about a young woman in modern day Bristol trying to find love, or get rid of it, or possibly just make honey.

“Historically, when men kidnapped women, didn’t they have to marry them afterwards?”

This is one of those books where the timeline moves back and forth a little bit. I know I’ve set the precedent that nothing on this blog ever makes sense, but I’m gonna try to hold this nineteenth century railroad bridge of a plot together with my bare hands. The story begins when our main character Perdita is fired for refusing to throw little old ladies (or at least their finances) into traffic, which either means we’re meant to understand that she’s the good guy, or we’re setting up a fall from grace where she starts chucking grandmas off the Pensford viaduct. Perdita commiserates with her two friends Gavin and Luke. I can’t be a hundred percent certain that they are her Sassy Gay Besties, because they both appear to have jobs and, you know, stuff to do with their day besides prop up the trainwreck protagonist, which would sadly disqualify them.

“Perdita hid the detector stick behind her back… ‘If you don’t want a child, you shouldn’t play grown-up games,’ the woman told her as she shook her hands above the sink…”

If you’re anything like me, you hold two drinks at parties so no one will try to shake your hand. But more to the point if you’re like me minus the crippling dread of human contact, you’re probably wondering about the name Perdita. Perdition is an SAT word meaning damnation or punishment. Some guy named Bill who can’t spell his own name the same way twice made a character like that little kid in Room, and named her Perdita. Since then a small number of parents have thought that it was appropriate to name their child after either the state of eternal damnation or a girl who grew up in the medieval equivalent of Joseph Fritzl’s basement, keeping the name alive through the generations. However, like Chip, it’s a name that primarily exists in fiction, in this case to demonstrate that a character is a) female, b) British, and c) put-upon, with the main example being the lady dog in 101 Dalmations. So we have a fictional character who’s about to have a really rough time. Also, it’s a genus of bee, which may not have anything to do with it, but I don’t know what kind of fourth dimensional chess Mari Jane Law is playing here.

Before we can get bogged down in a montage of makeovers, pillow fights, and performative allyship, we are whisked away to our other perspective character. Saul is a big giant man whose aunt Violet was one of those ladies who were not saved from traffic in time by Perdita’s sudden moral clarity, and lost all her money. And he’s salty about it. Big salty Saul can’t find Perdita to yell into her face about his feelings like a crazy person, because she’s been fired, remember? This book is basically Primer, try to keep up. But luck! He runs into her at a necktie and scarf store. This leads to the most bananas romcom meet-cute I think I have ever read.

Big Saul’s big plan is apparently to abduct Perdita in big broad daylight for reasons unknown. When a concerned stranger approaches, because I’m pretty sure you’re not allowed to kidnap women in Woolworth’s, Saul decides to try a Wile E. Coyote strategy of pretending that Perdita is his amnesiac wife who has forgotten her meds and wandered off saying crazy people things like “help, I don’t know this man.” Now in the next scene Saul goes to prison, but here’s the thing: he doesn’t though. It works. The concerned stranger looks at the giant angry man holding a woman by the arm while she yells for help, and thinks “Well, I guess this all checks out.” Don’t tell me people in England haven’t heard of lying. The only word in “The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland” that isn’t misleading is “the.” Once outside, her giant assailant insists that Perdita come to Violet’s house to face the music for what she has done. And she agrees, because she feels guilty. So to recap, you can straight up abduct a lady, and if that gets too taxing, you can just ask nicely and she’ll finish the job for you. There’s no way to not get a frightened woman into your car in Bristol. Also, there’s a chapter break in the middle of all this for some reason. I think I need you to just imagine the words “for some reason” at the end of each sentence, because I’m going to get tired of typing it.

“His warm man-scented breath fanned her cheek.”

At this point we fire up the flux capacitor and go back several months, to when old lady Violet and Perdita first met. Violet tells Perdita that she’s a flower who needs to attract a bee. She should wear more makeup at work so she can snag a man with a good job and not end up “unpollinated” like her. Since Perdita is an entire human woman, she should be immune to this, but alas, she is the product of Catholic education. This is something I didn’t know they had in other countries, but here in America Catholic sex education could be set to Flight of the Valkyries with no information loss. Rather than knowing things and facts and stuff, Perdita is left to envy the other girls in high heels and tight skirts soaking up all that sweet male gaze, and thinks that this old woman spouting relationship advice from the Talmud might be on to something. It turns out, Violet is scheming to set her up with her enormous nephew Saul. Instead, Perdita takes this advice, becomes a fully tarted up sex flower, and gets stung by some jerk who disappears for most of the book and moves on to a blonde, if you can believe it! Back in the present, Saul continues to press Perdita like she owes him something, and they come to an insane arrangement that ensures they are in close enough proximity to make the plot of a romance novel happen. Eventually it comes out that she’s protagonisting for two, which she insists on calling “being pollinated” instead of pregnant, because it “sounds nicer.”

I read a “dark romance” a few weeks ago in which the protagonist’s world revolved on an axis of throwing every terrible thing possible at her, and I couldn’t stop thinking about it while reading Love and Pollination. Of course, where dark romance has rape and forced abortions (it’s a whole thing, really you’re better off leaving that rabbit hole unspelunked), this sort of book pummels its main character with one of those squeaky toy hammers, presumably to the tune of Herb Alpert’s Spanish Flea. You know that nothing truly awful is going to happen to Perdita, despite the nominal determinism of her becoming a tragic heroine, and everything is going to be alright in the end. And without spoiling too much, of course it is. I cringed at a few of the jokes and the way some of the characters talk about sex, but after a while something strange happened. This book is so earnest and good-hearted, whether it’s dipping its protagonist in acid, buying her a nice seafood dinner, or subjecting her to dad jokes, that it’s hard to stay mad at it, even when a kidnap victim with a third grade education being turned into an indentured servant is played up for laughs. I didn’t hate it, and that rarely happens when I pick up a romance novel. Check it out if you’re the sort of person who loves murder mysteries where the cover is a watercolor of a beach house, and you want some wholesome, cheesy romcom fun. It’s five dollars on Kindle.

I sat through another one of Madeline’s dumb reviews, so now you do too.

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