Book Review: No Problem Girl by David Youngposted on 30 March 2009 | posted in Books
***CONTAINS SOME SPOILERS***
This story starts out with two very dispirate threads; one follows Peter, living in Chicago, who is reluctant to settle down. He picks up women in bars using the various strategies laid down by Guy Merrick, his guru-on-a-CD. Peter's locquacious and entertaining, and has good looks to back up (or perhaps encourage) his confident nature.
However, it's soon apparent Peter is bored with his life. The casual kleptomania he indulges in alludes to the lack of excitement in his life (stealing only petty items). At the very beginning of the book, he tries to fend off the creeping ennui by visiting a new pickup joint, figuring a new challenge would present itself in new surroundings. He needs something more though....
Then the story introduces Aree, a Thai girl working in Pattaya; she's an innocent girl in a town where innocence can only be spoken about in quotation marks. Aree isn't the type of girl who would be seen frequenting Western Union outlets, or handing out flyers in a Japanese school uniform. She's truly innocent, taking up bar work that doesn't involve fines of any sort. As she repeatedly says : she's not for sale. However, her principles are tested thoroughly by her family, who, already poor, are now destitute since her father gambled them into deep debt. In desperation, she follows her friend's advice and joins a dating agency (Siam Dreams); to her own shame, she admits she needs to marry a foreigner in order to help her family out financially.
Meanwhile Peter's father dies and leaves him with $22,000,000 in his will - but with a condition he must place this money in a joint account....that of Mr and Mrs Slodell. In other words, he must be married to receive this money, and within 3 months of the will's reading. Peter faces the dilemma of wanting the money badly, but not wanting to get married. It doesn't take long for the money to win that battle, and so Peter decides to get married, promising full disclosure to his wife-to-be (who he needs to find first!) that this would be a marriage of convenience and they would divorce soon after he receives his money.
You can see the two story threads are destined to entangle, and sure enough a dating website provides their meeting point. And so, Aree and Peter meet through the Siam Dreams dating agency, run by a certain Mr Nick, who provides many twists and turns to the plot.
The descriptions of Pattaya are well drawn, particularly Mr Dwight, Aree's employer and bar owner. He's a veteran of Pattaya, so naturally he trusts nobody - yet he has a blind spot in that he loves a woman who serially and openly cheats on him. What's more, her cheating absolutely pulls him to pieces. His weakness makes this character very interesting.
Also taking Peter out of the farang-friendly Pattaya and into the wilds of Isan (north-east Thailand) provides fresh humour. Aree's family are typical in that they are obsessively superstitious. The harshness of country living is also described well, with Aree due to be sold as a mia noi (minor wife) to a rich local to pay off his father's debts, the ganglife her younger brother is involved in (nothing much going on, but petty thieving and bike racing).
Mr Nick was a good wildcard character, providing a much needed unknown quantity to the storyline (which I think all love stories need, otherwise you're wandering TOO close to predictability).
What's Not So Good?
The dilemmas faced by the characters don't seem so compelling. Peter's due to inherit a whacking great amount of cash, and Aree's already stated she signed up to Siam Dreams primarily motivated by a dire need to meet a rich foreigner. They both clearly liked each other even though the first few meetings were a little clumsy. Surely this is a beautiful quid pro quo deal waiting to happen, with love involved too? Love and money, or love and no money? It seems Peter's conscience wants to be as clean as possible.
I enjoyed the book very much despite the niggles mentioned. The story (for me) became secondary to the descriptive accuracy of Thai life which made it a very entertaining read (as I live in Thailand), and the interesting characters and dialogue would appeal to most people.