Monday, January 24, 2011

No Strings Attached (Mina V. Esguerra)

Aspirational is a term that we loved to use when I was still in advertising (and by 'loved', I mean a mixture of sarcasm, amusement, and fondness). I don't even know if it's a legit word. "We want it to be aspirational," we were always told, whether we were making brochures for mid-rise condominiums or sale ads for a popular mall. Our team knew aspirational more than we knew the back of our hands, because let's face it, we were never asked to spend hours staring at the back of our hands.

But I've always believed that one place where that term belonged was in romance. Being aspirational is inherent in almost every love story. It's the anak-mayaman who falls in love with the household help; it's the romantic groveling scene that's tacked on at the end of every Hollywood rom-com. It's the reason I read chick lit -- the strange suspension of disbelief that yes, a finance lawyer can also be a domesticated goddess, that yes, a size-14 has-been pop star can find love with a hot private eye. Without that aspirational hoopla, we'd be reading a totally different genre. For me, a good romance would be the one that makes me feel happy with the life I'm living, but tells me that I can still indulge in the life I could almost have.

That's what I felt with Mina Esguerra's No Strings Attached. It's the third of her books that I've read and no matter how much I've gushed over the other ones, this has become my favorite. In this story, twenty-nine year old Carla deals with being the youngest and only unmarried single female in her barkada. But just before she turns 30, she meets impulsive, independent Dante -- boss' son, college prof, cool older brother, and five years younger than her. (I think that if my friends are reading this entry, they'd be laughing right now.)

What makes the story work is that despite what I would call the 'aspirational' stuff (by her own admission, Carla has become 'exponentially more attractive (p9),' having 'learned the importance of correct clothing sizes and flattering haircuts (p9)'), it still feels very grounded to me. I thought Carla's reaction to Dante is very real. She doesn't want to rock the boat when this new guy comes into her life. She has her hesitations but she weighs her options and decides to just go with the flow. I like how elements like this make a chick lit heroine much more accessible to the reader. What's more, Ms Esguerra easily shows us how a guy like Dante can be compelling enough to sweep Carla off her feet. Dante is so unlike the typical guy I would fawn over in a romance novel, but he is given such maturity and charisma that I found myself squeeing over the simple things: the way he made sure Carla would see him again, the way he texted her, the way he was when they were with his friends. His and Carla's relationship is drama-lite (not exactly the drama-free one they wanted) and that just makes it all the more believable to me.

In the end, No Strings Attached is not just about getting the guy. It's about making a relationship work so that he stays gotten. There's a studied air in the way this whirlwind romance is written: a great balance between what a woman could aspire for and what she knows she can keep.

12 comments:

Chachic said...

Looks like you enjoyed this one a lot more than I did. :) Fairy Tale Fail is still my favorite out of all of Mina's books. But she's already on my auto-buy list and I'll read whatever she comes up with.

dementedchris said...

I know what you mean about auto-buying her! She really knows how to bring out realistic kilig. I enjoyed FTF a lot too! But I think I could see myself in Carla's shoes more. :)

Tina said...

Like Chachic, my favorite is still Fairy Tale Fail. However, I liked how different No Strings Attached is from the typical chick lit storyline, and still Mina made it work without too much suspension of disbelief. :)

LOL, we're like Mina's little fan club here -- she's also one of my auto-buy authors. :)

Chachic said...

Hmm maybe I could relate with Ellie more because we're the same age? I wonder if I'll be able to relate to Carla more a couple of years from now.

Tina, LOL at Mina's little fan club. I event sent Holly the books!

The Reluctant Stylista said...

Omg, I just bought this recently, just last week when I was looking for something with which to pass the time and I picked this up. It's one of my favorite local chick lits already! My other favorites are Wander Girl by Tweet Sering (as in, I reread this to death! But it's not really so romantic and mushy as other chick lits are, parang self-discovery eklavoo siya) and 12 Steps to Quitting AJ (funny!) by Faye Ilogon. I haven't read any of Mina's works, though, this is the first.

dementedchris said...

@Chachic and Tina
Now that you've mentioned it, my best friend (who's also in her thirties) messaged me right away after reading No Strings Attached... she loved it too! I think you're right, it may have been partly due to the age thing. :P

@Lex
I got hooked on My Imaginary Ex, which I thought had a nice rom-com-ish plot but delivered a very believable Pinoy story. (What's funny about it is that I could totally imagine the college setting of this story being La Salle until a friend of mine said that she said she saw it set in Ateneo naman. How's that for believabilty?) Then I bought her Fairy Tale Fail over at Smashwords. ^_^ I hope you get to read the others! Definitely worth it.

The Reluctant Stylista said...

Oh, so she wrote My Imaginary Ex pala. I was reading the plot summary in one of the Summit Books and I thought it was interesting but I never got to pick it up. Will do from now on! Hehe. :D Chick lit is my guilty pleasure. :))

dementedchris said...

I still see it around so lucky you. ^_^ I think you'll enjoy this one, Lex. BTW, does Paolo have relatives in Cebu? (Or a sister from Poveda?)

The Reluctant Stylista said...

Paolo as in the boyfriend? (I guess, kasi if it's Paulo my brother di malamang pareho lang kami ng relatives haha!) He has a sister who studied in Poveda, but his relatives are from Pampanga and Mindoro. :)

dementedchris said...

Oo naman, the bf. Haha. If his dad's a doctor, I think I've worked with him (the dad) before. Small world, if that's the case. XP

cpsanti said...

"It's the reason I read chick lit -- the strange suspension of disbelief..." I so love this line. Hahaha!

dementedchris said...

Haha, thanks (I guess)! ^_^ I love chick lit for that same reason, too; I mean, some real-life romances can be epic as well, but fictional ones are almost cinematic. XP