June 23, 2009

Review: Ms. Taken Identity

Book Cover

By Dan Begley

I sometimes feel embarrassed when I go to write a review and the first thing in my mind is, "Don't forget to mention that odd quibble you had with fact X!" I sometimes have a compulsive need to correct people, which my friends fortunately find adorable. (There have been people who have had problems with it. I try to keep it in, honest.) But I'm going to call Dan Begley on this since he is part of the Department of English at the University of Missouri. Protagonist Mitch is a Phd candidate in medieval literature. Throughout the book he mostly makes allusions to more familiar eighteenth, nineteenth century works. Then someone asks him why Scheherazade was telling those stories in the Arabian Nights - and he doesn't know. That's a basic fact about one of the most popular pieces of medieval literature. I found it hard to suspend disbelief that Mitch wouldn't know the answer.

Okay, odd quibble over. MS. TAKEN IDENTITY is a very funny and very cute story with an often frustrating narrator. It begins with Mitch frustrated from a series of setbacks, especially the rejection of his novel HENLEY FARM by a former student who works at a small press, who had been his last resort. I do love the way Begley describes it, so that you know it's terrible and pretentious even if the narrator doesn't:

It's a sweeping saga about America that spans several generations of the Henley family and their relationship to the land: think The Grapes of Wrath meets The Good Earth, with bits of King Lear and A Thousand Acres sprinkled in. Seven years and seven hundred pages to get it just the way I want it, and I won't lie to you: it hasn't been an easy ride.

Then he's really tipped over the edge when he sees Katharine Longwell on tour for her newest novel, which he reads and finds facile. Then he meets her in a coffee shop and pretends to have a cousin writing a romance novel. The fact that he thinks he's pulling a really funny fast one past her baffles me, but it does get the plot moving.

Soon enough, Mitch is writing an actual chick lit novel. He's being a real prat about it to, planning to use it to showcase his contempt for the genre since the readers are too dumb to get it. (My prediction? The reviewers would crucify him.) Luckily, the women he meets in the ballroom class he takes for research help him realize there's a lot more to the fairer sex.

And he just keeps lying. Yeah, you can back yourself into a hole with lies. But at the point you're ready to propose to someone, you need to reveal the truth because at some point you're going to need to procure a marriage license. I sympathize with Marie's actions, since the extent of Mitch's lying does not deserve instant forgiveness.

I really enjoyed the novel and watching Mitch mature. I felt a subplot with one of his students didn't really go anywhere, but at the same time I kind of wanted to see more of his class. They seemed pretty sharp. But at points I wanted to crawl into the book and slap him, especially at the beginning. Begley was in control, since that's the reaction he was trying to illicit, but I don't want my pleasure reading to raise my blood pressure. Also, I wished I could read Mitch's novel CATWALK MAMA. It sounds sassy.


  1. This was a very funny review/scribble on quibbles. And I know exactly what you mean--I just finished a book that I loved but my enjoyment of which was slightly dampened by the fact that the protagonists, who were adventuring through Mexico City, sat down to an epic meal on every other page. I'm sorry, but even the most glutinous actor preparing for a role as Chris Farley couldn't stomach an hourly dosage of 3 tequila and 4 fried tacos.

  2. This sounds like a really funny book. A clever premise - I take it our hero gains newfound respect for women, readers and authors?

  3. I totally get hung up on things like that too. They drive me nuts.

  4. @Lauren: Luckily it was only once so that I didn't have to keep wondering about it! And now you've got me simultaneously wanting a fried taco and imagining epic stomach upset.

    @Leigh: Oh yeah. He also learned that sometimes you have to be honest even if it's a bad time for it.

    @Britt: I'm glad I'm not the only one who is weirdly nitpicky! Of course, if I can pick out one little thing that really bothers me it probably means all the big things were running smoothly.


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