This is a perfect example of why you should never judge a book by its cover. I know it’s bad, I also know the title isn’t helping, but believe me, you’re in for a treat.
Johnny Smith is man’s man. That means that every single guy he’s ever met loves him. They all find him funny, clever, approachable, admirable, all the guys want to be his best friend and they all want Johnny to be their Best Man. In fact, he’s been Best Man at eight weddings and counting! However, when it comes to women the story is the complete opposite. They all hate him, no matter what he does, men love him for it and women hate him. He’s been disappointing women ever since he was born.
Right from the start, I’ve been a disappointment to women.
Here’s me at my own birth:
On January 1, 1977, after thirty-two hours, fourteen minutes and fifty-three seconds of labor, most of it during a heat wave so bad there are citywide power outages – a heat wave that would have been perfectly normal in Florida, but in New England, not so much – my mother, Francesca Smith, gives birth to me at home at exactly 2:19 p.m.
She insisted on the home birth because she said it would be more natural.
Alfresca Tivoli, Francesca’s sister, is present as Francesca’s birthing coach because my father, John Smith, says it’s women’s work. Plus, he’s scared shitless.
As I emerge from between my mother’s legs – all thirteen pounds, eight ounces of me – Alfresca catches me. Then I do the usual baby stuff: I get my cord cut, I’m slapped, I cry, I get weighed and measured, someone wipes the cheesy stuff off my hairy head, and finally I get handed off to my mother.
“Oh,” Francesca says, gently parting the swaddling to examine my body further, “it’s a boy. This wasn’t what I was expecting at all. I was so sure, all along, I was going to have a girl.”
Then, she dies.
“If you’d been a girl,” Alfresca says, taking me from my dead mother’s arms as the midwife tries in vain to resuscitate my disappointed mother, “this never would have happened.”
See what I mean? Now, at 33 years old, he’s ready to settle down and form a family. But he wonders:
How did I get to be the guy that men all gravitate toward but that women, except for lesbians, mostly shun?
When he meets Helen, finding the answer to that question becomes an urgent matter because he really likes her. So he enlists the help of everyone around him: his friends’ wives, his dad and even the local tailor. They all agree that he should change his douchey ways and become a different guy: no baseball cap, no jeans, no t-shirts, no sports, no belching; but yes to the opera, yes to changing his name from Johnny to John, yes to watching General Hospital and yes to getting a cat.
It’s pretty obvious to the reader that Helen isn’t shallow and that they are pretty compatible, but he is so worried about becoming what he thinks is a better person that he fails to see this. He’s completely self-absorbed and blind, but he doesn’t realize it and his journey is about figuring out that the right person loves you just the way you are.
I have so many good things to say about this book that I don’t even know where to start. First I should say that it’s a comedy and I that I started laughing from page one, right about the “then she dies part” and just kept laughing all the way to the end. Next I should say that the whole book is told from Johnny’s POV and that, plus the whole “journey to self-discovery” part of the story, made me feel like I was reading a bizarre chick-lit, but instead of chick-lit this should be called dude-lit or something like that. I have read my fair share of chick-lit and some I have loved, but most just blurs together, so this book was a refreshing and an original twist to the genre.
I’m trying to come up with a way to describe Johnny and the best I can say is that he was charming, goodhearted, caring, clueless, and yes, a douche. His story inspired lots of laughs, lots of face-palms and lots of yelling “get a clue!”. This is a guy who is wicked smart for some things, and then goes and says things like this:
(Johnny asks his friend Sam to help him get a cat)
“Precisely. Here’s one. Free, six adorable kittens in need of good home.”
“But I don’t need six. I only need one.”
“What are you, stupid? We look at the six and pick out the one you like best. How hard can it be?”
“But it says ‘good home,’ not ‘homes.’ Clearly whoever placed the ad is looking to have all the kittens adopted at once.”
“Oh, for Christ sake, Johnny, just get in the truck and drive.”
Parts of his characters felt a bit over the top and cartoonish. Things like his obsession with sports, his lack of understanding women’s minds, and the fact that he put together women into one huge bag where if you manage to decipher one then you have deciphered them all, felt like a huge stereotype of how men are and not like a real person. But despite his shortcomings, both as a book character and as a person, I loved him. He was reliable, honest, loyal and inherently good. When you have to spend a whole book in company of the same character he better be likeable, otherwise the reading experience is going to be bad. Thankfully Johnny was as likeable a character as it gets.
Another thing I loved about the book was the narration. Johnny’s personality grabbed me to the point where I felt like he was sitting beside me telling me his story. Sometimes first person POVs read more like the characters talking to themselves, but in this case I felt like he was talking directly to me.
The book isn’t perfect, the ending was a bit weak, it wasn’t what I was expecting which was good, but it was abrupt and rushed. The book’s pacing is slow and it drags a bit in the middle, but then I had so much fun that I didn’t want it to end. Helen isn’t really the heroine, she acts more like a secondary character and as love interest, she isn’t developed at all and we don’t really get to know much about her which was disappointing.
Finally I want to say that I’m happy I read the book and I’m happy because I read it. It’s a feel good book similar to its main character: crass on the outside, but charming and funny on the inside. This is how romantic comedies should be.
In case there were any doubts left, I wholeheartedly recommend this book to everyone feeling like spending an afternoon laughing out loud and in the company of a great guy.
Review by Brie
Women have been known to lament, "Always a bridesmaid, never a bride." For Johnny Smith, the problem is, "Always a Best Man, never a groom." At age 33, housepainter Johnny has been Best Man eight times. The ultimate man's man, Johnny loves the Mets, the Jets, his weekly poker game, and the hula girl lamp that hangs over his basement pool table. Johnny has the instant affection of nearly every man he meets, but one thing he doesn't have is a woman to share his life with, and he wants that desperately. When Johnny meets District Attorney Helen Troy, he decides to renounce his bro-magnet ways in order to impress her. With the aid and advice of his friends and family, soon he's transforming his wardrobe, buying throw pillows, ditching the hula girl lamp, getting a cat and even changing his name to the more mature-sounding John. And through it all, he's pretending to have no interest in sports, which Helen claims to abhor. As things heat up with Helen, the questions arise: Will Johnny finally get the girl? And, if he's successful in that pursuit, who will he be now that he's no longer really himself? THE BRO-MAGNET is a rollicking comedic novel about what one man is willing to give up for the sake of love.
TKA Distribution. December 11, 2011.