Let the Dream Begin (2007)

     by Pamela Clayfield

You know, I can't really be too mad at this book. I mean, it's not good - lord no - but it doesn't mean any evil. Its author did make me pay ten bucks for the privilege of reading it, though, so it cannot escape the full review of all its sins.

This is one of those books that is not technically about the Phantom story, except that it totally is. Like Ashley's 1994 magnum opus "Masquerade" (but thankfully with fewer fangs), it's a story about modern-day people and their love of Andrew Lloyd Webber's 1986 musical, and how coincidentally their lives are romantically just like said musical. These are not my favorite Phantom-related materials, I have to tell you, but obviously someone out there likes them because they keep on happening.

Unfortunately, there is not much to love about Clayfield's writing. There are missing commas and run-on sentences galore, she employs the hackneyed introductory description device of "the character looks at some stuff, here's a huge amount of stilted detail on it" in the first paragraph, and the overall theme of the book's prose is Lights, Action, Boredom, since almost everything is underdescribed and all motivations and actions are simply told to us rather than letting us discover anything about characters through action or dialogue.

She's also very fond of colloquial phrases in the narration, such as when the first paragraph says that the main character "would die if she got this role". Well, let's be charitable. Maybe she really will die if someone gives her the role of Christine in The Phantom of the Opera. Maybe it's clever foreshadowing and we'll all be surprised later.

Our main character's name is Lucy Everett, and by the end of the first paragraph we know that her dream is to play Christine in Lloyd Webber's musical, for which she is currently auditioning. Lucy is a textbook case of someone who is obviously very into musical theatre as a fan but doesn't have much of an idea how it works - as is Clayfield, who makes some wild leaps and bounds with the operation of the theatre in which all of this takes place.

The director is apparently named Michael - or so we must assume, because the narration abruptly says, "She looked Michael right in the eye" before ever mentioning anyone named Michael. That's not very kind. That's the kind of thing that makes readers wonder if they've had a stroke in the past few minutes and just not noticed. Michael thinks that Lucy is such an incredibly awesome singer that he tries to convince her not to be in his "amateur" production and instead go "be a star". Whatever that means.

How amateur are we talking here, Michael? The Really Useful Group is famous for stringent requirements for licensing and performing their shows, especially this one; it's only available at certain times and to certain levels and kinds of performers and not at all in some countries (I'm not actually sure where these people are, but despite the lack of period after the designation "Ms", I'm getting the impression that they're in the US where the musical wasn't available for performance by any non-school companies when this was written). It also costs a considerable amount; last I looked it was either 300ish dollars per performance or 16% of the box office, whichever is higher, not to mention extra charges for the music scores, use of the logo and so on. All of this is backed up by a company that is ready and demonstrably willing to C&D any upstarts who try to circumvent any of these rules. As of this review, the only groups that can license Phantom are professional theatres in certain areas of the UK and high school/college groups in a few countries. (And if I recall correctly, the show wasn't even opened to student productions until 2010, years after this book was written.)

My point is, even professional companies can't do this show most of the time. Michael is either so amateur he's actually in secondary school, or totally going to get sued.

Regardless of his obviously shady copyright activities, Michael is still super taken with Lucy and her voice and not only gives her the part of Christine on the spot (thus showing himself to be a massive asshole to everyone else who is waiting to audition by not even pretending to listen to them) but also begs her to sing for them again because he enjoyed it so much. Then he gets onstage and sings the part of Raoul with her in "All I Ask of You" while everyone gets dreamy-eyed. Ah, fantasy. None of that makes any kind of reality-based sense, but I think, several pages now under my belt, that I feel comfortable asserting that this book is totally just about wish-fulfillment and is going to in no way try to be convincing or realistic about anything it does.

Michael - who has "wavy brown hair", by the way, which is literally the only description of anyone including the main character that we've gotten yet - is "a wonderful tenor." I mean, I guess. He's singing on this page and there's no description whatsoever of what it sounds like, so we'll just have to believe Clayfield when she says it's wonderful.

One of the author's many bad writing habits is a pattern of dizzying point-of-view hopping, in which the reader is tossed from Lucy's thoughts to Michael's - and occasionally even to other, obviously not important characters' - without warning and often only for a line or two. It totally destroys flow and gives us a motion-sickness-inducing sense of the text lurching back and forth while these two clowns read each others' minds. No thoughtful barf bags were included.

Also, she keeps using hyphens instead of dashes, which is creating very weird hybrid words like "answer-start".

On page 6, when the book informed me that Lucy "...felt a connection to him like she had known him in another time and place but forced herself to shake off those feelings until she could escape," I almost experienced some legitimate despair. I was off to the medicine cabinet to cope with yet another past-life astral-projection drama, but this is actually the book's only attempt to suggest that Lucy and Michael are, in fact, actually Christine and Erik. To be honest, I think that's what's supposed to be going on here and Clayfield is just very poor at implication and metaphor, but since it's sort of stuck in there and then forgotten, I'm totally taking the opportunity to pretend that there is no reincarnation of any kind happening and this is not a terrible, terrible shellshock-flashback to Meadows or D'Arcy.

At this point, a dude named Kevin (don't worry, we will hear a lot more about him later) is cast as Raoul, with the justification that while he has a nice voice and was auditioning for the role of the Phantom, he was "struggling with the lower notes" and thus had to be cast as Raoul instead.

This was confusing for me, because I have written lots of essays on the vocal parts for dudes in the Lloyd Webber musical and the interesting social dynamic of both Raoul and the Phantom being sung by tenors, since traditional opera usually casts the villain as a baritone and therefore the Phantom is breaking that mold and becoming more "sympathetic" as an unconscious effect on audiences. It was also confusing because I happen to have seen the scores for the musical, and I am therefore aware that the part of the Phantom goes higher than Raoul's by a half step, and that they have the exact same lowest note (an A flat 2). Picture the contortions on my face as people repeatedly referred to the Phantom's part as "baritone" and continued to hammer home that, gosh darn it, Kevin just couldn't do it because he couldn't get low enough.

I can only assume that, while the book is not very clear about its sources of inspiration, the problem here is probably Gerard Butler, who played the Phantom in the 2004 film adaptation of the musical and who is very obviously a baritone (very obviously, unfortunately, especially when he is coming in flat on high notes he can't really reach). Much of the music in the film was adjusted and lowered for Butler, so I have to assume that that's where this idea of the part of the Phantom in the stage show being lower than Raoul's is coming from. And, unfortunately, this justification for the casting of Kevin is going to become a HUGE PLOT MOTIVATOR, so I'm going to spend the rest of the book being mildly distressed about it.

I suppose that Michael could always have decided to fiddle with the Phantom's part, or even bring the entire show down a step or two... but if he can't find anyone to cast in the part (and he can't, he whines about it all the time) as a result, this seems like a pretty obvious error on his part.

Since Michael himself will not be playing Raoul, him singing "All I Ask of You" onstage with her earlier is a not-so-subtle device to take the love song between Raoul and Christine away and give it to her and the Phantom stand-in, therefore planting a flag of I Was Here First in regards to her romantic interest.


Chapter 2


We learn here that Lucy's father is alive (although we will only see him interact via phone) and that her mother died of a heart attack very recently. Obviously, Lucy's not a Christine-style orphan, but the setup of having only a father to rely on through her financial and performing woes is familiar.

Michael, it turns out, has nineteen million buckets full of money, so that's exciting. No one ever actually puts a serious figure on his astounding and magical wealth, which apparently rained out of the sky one day, except that he confirms in an offhand comment halfway through the book that he's at least a millionaire. He's using his riches to renovate and old, disused theatre... gee, where have we seen that plot before? Sadly for fans of bad movies everywhere, Michael is himself the Phantom stand-in, so there will be precious little terrorizing of said theatre, since he, you know, just owns it outright. I'm slightly reminded of Cartier's 1997 book with its brooding partner-in-owning the theater... but as already stated, we're keeping this one vampire-free.

Michael here kicks off his Phantom-esque behavior by immediately turning into a creepy stalker. After he gives Lucy the part, on the spot, in a really weird gushing state over her awesomeness, he also pressures her to immediately quit whatever job she has and come work for him at the theater, even though he has no idea whether or not she can type more than twenty words per minute or knows which side of the box office glass to be on. He then follows that up by starting to call her obsessively at home, leaving a message and then calling back literally five minutes later until he gets her in person. Lucy, of course, is just excited that he's paying attention to her with the phone calls, and when she expresses some reasonable misgivings about the job offer, her father is on hand to tell her she's being ridiculous and that she should totally take the job because it's going to take her places. Yeah, and those places are murder basements. You’re the worst, dad.

God, the prose is so dull I feel like I'm watching mud dry to see if its color changes. "He could tell that..." "She was..." "That made her feel..." Just time after time after time, sentences that baldly state emotions or thoughts instead of letting the reader see any of them. Also, commas have no place in ellipses, so cut that out.

Kim, the saucy best friend whose entire history and family life I know about but whose physical appearance is still a mystery to me, also appears, apparently for the sole purpose of also mocking Lucy's misgivings about Michael's job offer so she can hurry up and cave already.

And, by chapter's end, she has decided she's in love. With the guy she met literally once.


Chapter 3


Maybe Clayfield's refusal to describe what anyone looks like on purpose. Maybe it's a clever literary device intended to make a comment about the projection of reader emotions and history onto the blank slate of characters. Maybe she's saying something about how our mental image of a character is a composite not only of the author's descriptions but of our own perceptions and prejudices. Or maybe she just freaking forgot to tell us what anyone looks like. Definitely one of those, though.


"The conversation lasted through the last two horrible auditions and it wasn't until the last prospect had left the stage that they stopped and watched him leave the stage."


Sigh. Anything else you want to say about people leaving the stage while you're at it?

Look, Clayfield, I know that Michael's going to star in this show. You know it. Everyone reading knows it. Even Lucy, who doesn’t know better than to quit her job in favor of being terrorized by a new boss who is definitely harassing her, knows it. Could you stop making me sit through a bunch of characters unconvincingly "convincing" one another to do annoying things that we already know they're going to do? It's not convincing me any.

Michael now sings the Phantom's part in "Angel of Music". Which is confusing again because, the last time I checked, he doesn't have a part in that number. Is he moonlighting for Meg? Is this a revue of the show and they’ve inserted new numbers? What am I supposed to be imagining here?

Michael, Lucy, and everyone else on the cast and crew spend a good portion of this chapter mocking the auditionees for the role of the Phantom, both in dialogue and in the narration itself. It's mean-spirited, unfortunately, and casts everyone in a very unflattering light as they sit around sniping like stereotypical teen cheerleaders confronted by the chess club. It's not fun, which is probably what it's supposed to be; it's just a sad attempt to make Lucy's and Michael's undescribed but, we are assured, superlative talents look even better by making everyone else worse. Then they start dragging in auditionees for other roles, including someone saying, "'Hey, we could use that completely crazy lady who sings like the nun in Sister Act to play Carlotta,'" followed up by referring to her as a "screech owl" a few lines later.

Look, y’all need to sit down for an entire basket of reasons. Carlotta's role in the Lloyd Webber musical is incredibly demanding and requires an incredible singer to pull it off, and if you cast a bad singer in that role, you are terrible at casting and should be stopped. Kathy Najimy is a national treasure who doesn't deserve your bullshit, and you know what, while we're at it, leave Sister Mary Patrick and her killer pipes alone, too. Basically, all of you stop being nasty children and move on. If you're going to be boring, at least be boring without also being jerks.

The hayride of ridiculousness trundles on as yet another conversation occurs in which Michael is hesitant to take on the role of the Phantom because he's a tenor, and of course a tenor couldn't sing that role with its low notes. Also, why is Lucy involved in casting? She's no one you've ever met before, she works as a sales associate and has never done any other theatre before, and you cast her yesterday. You guys are so not a confidence-inspiring team, even for amateur theatre.


Chapter 4


Well, I now know what everyone is wearing, even though I still have no idea what they actually look like as people. In my head, this book is like watching an entire movie completely acted by jointed wooden reference figures. One of which has wavy brown hair.

Lucy and Michael go out to eat at the Frenchest restaurant Clayfield can invent, because of course the Phantom is le French and therefore everyone should eat some foods whose names have silent letters in them.

Here, we finally find out what Lucy looks like, unfortunately because we are in Michael's stream of consciousness while he is thinking about how much he wants to bone her. She has typical ridiculous heroine characteristics, including her eyes being violet (bonus: his are "navy"!) and her beauty being beyond all reason or denial despite the fact that no one including her appears to have ever noticed this before.

Michael's navy-eyed charm is not working on me nearly as well as it is on Lucy, because holy bananas, the red flags are a field of frantically waving color here. He bullies her until she agrees to come work for him, and then starts petting her without asking in a public place surrounded by strangers, and this is literally the second time they have ever met. Run, Lucy. Run far, far away. (Also, did you see that sentence he said on page 40? "'Lucy, I want you there full time but I'll take you half time for a short time'"? You don't need that kind of word repetition in your life, girl.)

But nah, she's turned on by it all. Clayfield attempts some sexy prose on page 41, which is much more hilarious than anything she's been trying to do for intentional humor value. I was particularly fond of this passage:


"Lucy picked up her knife and fork and cut into the fish only to find that it fell apart at the merest touch of her fork. She lifted some to her mouth and blew for a second before she slid it between her lips and pulled out the fork. 'Mmmm,' she murmured as she chewed.


Michael was watching her and found it extremely sensual the way she had blown a little on the fish before she had put it in her mouth."


Oh, me, too, buddy. Be still my hormones.

It gets even better on page 43 when this line happens:


"Michael did what he needed to do and motioned to the waitress again to come retrieve it."


What they are actually talking about here is him paying for the meal and calling the waitress to take the check, but... let's be real, that is a sentence you write about someone doing something one should never do in the dining room of a five-star restaurant. That poor waitress.

Michael thinks he won't be able to stay "noble" and avoid attacking Lucy much longer, because he "has to have her". Oh, yeah, he's a real peach. I know I like to know that a dude may not be able to avoid committing assault at any given point in the evening.

But whatever, it's time for dance floor makeouts! As is often the case in older romance novels, we get two pages of foreplay and then a single line that basically says "and then they made love". Alas. All of the buildup, none of the satisfaction. (Then again, perhaps we were spared whatever Clayfield’s attempt at erotic prose would have looked like.)


Chapter 5


Michael lets out "a low cat whistle" at Lucy's sexiness here, which... I think there is some confusion, because what the hell is a "cat whistle"? I think Clayfield has accidentally allowed the phrase "cat-calling" to coincide with “wolf-whistling”, with catastrophic results.

At this point, I put the book down, went downstairs, and made myself a giant dinner, because you need potatoes in your life when you realize that Michael has just proposed to Lucy. The morning after their first date, which was their second time ever meeting one another, while she is in the middle of having an orgasm from some morning sex. And she agreed!

Guys, there have been some strong contenders for the Ludicrously Awful Speed of Love Award in this project, but these guys absolutely blow the others away. They know literally NOTHING about one another, and they're in true love, and you will DEAL WITH IT, reader.

Oh, but the problem of Lucy taking the skeevy job is... solved? Somehow everyone is relieved instead of being even more skeeved out by Michael's escalating and very obvious attempts to isolate, control, and probably eat the object of his affection.


Chapter 6


Thank you, Marianne, Lucy's boss at the job she is about to quit. You are making some valid points about the seriousness of marriage and the concerns that people have over the blinding speed of this engagement. I'm sorry that Lucy is yelling at you and saying that you're not friends anymore while also implying that you're only saying that because you had a failed relationship some time in your past. Some people don't want to be helped.

Lucy then "rages" out of the store, where everyone is really confused about her giant blowup and declaration that she doesn't need the kinds of friends who would be worried about this, and then squeals her tires all the way back to the theatre. None of Michael's coworkers, on the other hand, seem to think there is anything weird about this. Which really says to me that he is probably their secret cult leader and they all know there's a room in the basement full of the body parts of his previous 48-hour spouses.

Ah, yes, Mr. Moneybags would like to assert his sugar daddy status by taking Lucy out to get her an engagement ring... at the mall. Big spender coming through here.

Calm down there, Mr. "Price is no object!", and put that waving genitalia away. The piece you're posturing about is a one-carat solitaire in white gold. That is literally the most normal of engagement rings. It's not the Heart of the Ocean.


Chapter 7


In which they have sex and Lucy suggests that they listen to the soundtrack of the Lloyd Webber musical while doin' it. That's it. Really.


Chapter 8


Unsurprisingly, the same song and dance I've come to expect from almost all modern-day parallel stories that are intentionally aware of the Phantom story limps its way across the stage again. Lucy and Michael discuss the show, they complain about how sorry they always felt for the Phantom, they make jokes about how since Michael is the Phantom now he "finally gets the girl", they castigate Christine because she should have appreciated his "unconditional love". I don't think these characters know what unconditional means. "Marry me or I murder people/destroy things/kill everything you love" is kind of the definition of conditional.

Now Lucy is moving into Michael's house! This weekend! He insists! This poor woman's going to end up as part of the Human Centipede.

We are now 88 pages into this book, about a third of the way through it, and there has been no conflict. The characters meet, get the roles they want, fall in love and bang a lot, and yet nothing at all is happening. The plot appears to have never gotten out of bed to show up to work here.

...and no sooner did I complain that there was no conflict that Clayfield hit me back with weird, out-of-nowhere conflict. Sorry, y’all, I didn't know it would turn out this way. When the cast and crew look at Michael a little askance for his terrifying relationship speed, he throws a huge fit, during which we read that "He did not appreciate in the least being treated the way he had just been treated." Which is bewildering, because they were enthusiastic and excited with Lucy, and when he yelled at them for staring at him in surprise, literally the only thing they said was "Sorry, boss" while they went back to work. You're right. These people are monsters.

The producer, Bruce (Bruces who Produces, as I believe no one likes to call him) implies that Michael has had some sketchy decision-making problems in the past. NO. Say it ain't so.

I really, really hope the plot, whenever it arrives, isn't going to be "oh no Lucy has to kiss Kevin in the show because he's playing Raoul, insert drama." Please don't do that to me again, Clayfield. I already staggered through the second Meadows novel and I don't need to return.

For those who are interested, we are averaging Lucy and Michael having sex at least once per chapter, even including the early chapters when they had just met, which would be great except that none of it is even remotely interesting and most of it goes almost completely undescribed. We can get a three-page deadly serious conversation about Lucy's ex-job at the fabric store or Michael's business plan, but we can't get any actual description of the romance in the freaking romance novel?

Michael here explains that they had to redo a lot of the building because it was built in the 1920s and they didn't have indoor plumbing then. Since that is wildly inaccurate and indoor plumbing was widely popular and available in both the United States and England in the 1920s, I have to assume this book takes place on Mars.

On page 109, this undying gem:


"'Alright, I don't know where everyone's at but, uh, well, that's a wrap for today,' he said.


Everyone laughed at the theatrical humor he had managed to incorporate and returned to what they were doing only to dump out buckets of water, and the like."


Indeed, Michael is a gift to comedy. I can't stop the laughter.

I have to ask here: who the hell has the talent clean, paint, and refurbish the performance space? These are supposed to be your singers, and you want them breathing in mold, paint fumes, and god knows what else instead of somewhere safer rehearsing? Michael, you're supposed to be a millionaire, hire someone to come in and paint the goddamn house and stop making the talent, producer, and costume staff try to figure it out. You have no idea how to run a theatrical company, do you?


Chapter 9


Apparently the box office is "taking on a face of its own." My god, it's the creepy scene from Popcorn all over again.

Deliver me from this purgatory. Why do I always know everything about these peoples' shopping and plans to avoid traffic and how the plumbing is doing, but I still have no idea what the plot is about? I'm beginning to suspect that there is no plot. The book will just continue until everyone in it has died of old age, including me.

Michael muses here that Lucy is "even more terrific the more he [gets] to know her." Well, that's certainly lucky. What's it been now, a whole week? Synergy achieved, I'm sure.

Clayfield's insistence on narrating the mechanical details of everyday doings for no reason whatsoever will be the death of me. I now know the exact step-by-step process each character has gone through to do such exciting things as clicking to turn off a computer and finding, calling, and getting into an elevator. I'm having flashbacks to the government procedural courses I took in grad school.

More sex occurs, in which the only description of anything happening is that Michael has sex with Lucy "in all the ways he could" (REALLY? I seriously doubt Lucy is down for ALL POSSIBILITIES, man, it's only been a week!), and Lucy "[reaches] climax innumerable times". Innumerable.

Then he proposes again, because why not? Then they have sex again, and another chapter in which absolutely nothing happens has ended.


Chapter 10


Michael and Lucy go to some wax museums while out for a walk, which tried to spark my interest thanks to the wax-inspired Phantom-esque horror film catalog in my head but which sadly had nothing to do with anything.

Michael cat-whistles here again. Is that real slang anywhere? Does anyone live in an area that uses that phrase?

And to round the chapter out, dancing, shopping, two more sex scenes, and that's ALL. NOTHING ELSE HAPPENED WHATSOEVER.


Chapter 11


I am baffled by Michael's theatre company. They are super rich, they appear to be miracle-workers who all have incredible performance skills and flawless architectural reconstruction degrees, but they also still can't find anyone to cast in their lead role and they're making everyone on the crew (you know, the NON-PERFORMERS) learn the chorus numbers in case they can't rustle up enough talent. Where are you putting this show on, in the middle of the Gobi Desert? Michael's incompetence is the only explanation, and its magnitude must be truly staggering.

The contractually-required once-per-chapter sex occurs, undescribed as per usual. Get hot, y’all.


Chapter 12


Kevin has returned and we have once again established that he has to be Raoul because he can't sing the "low notes" of the Phantom's part. And now the plot has finally arrived, but I won't be rejoicing... because it's your standard "Raoul is randomly evil and wants to destroy their true love" plot, beginning with internally complaining and whining because he didn't want the role of Raoul, he wanted to be the Phantom, and blaming Lucy for recommending him, with a douchey side order of "well at least I get the girl in the show now". Charming. Well, don't blame Lucy for your casting, Kevin - Michael's the one who made the boneheaded decision to give her input because he was having penis control problems.

Clayfield has a serious problem with telling the audience that Kevin is evil, in the narration or through the characters’ internal thoughts, but not telling the characters in the book, who just know for no apparent reason whatsoever. Kevin's outward reaction while he's thinking all that jerkitude up above is to be polite to Lucy, thank her for recommending that he be cast and even admit that he was having trouble singing the notes during the audition. Behold her response when talking to Michael a moment later:


"'He thanked me for getting him the role of 'Raoul' but he looked about ready to take my head off at first. He appeared to give it some thought and then agreed he was bottoming out the baritone part. It was funny because in my mind, he's just as manipulative and ignorant as Raoul himself,' she said. 'Guess we did a better job than we had first thought.'"


I just... sigh. You know what? He actually didn't look like he was going to take her head off or like he stopped to give it some thought. Or maybe he did, but the only person in the entire universe who knows that is the author, because she didn't tell the reader and therefore, as with most information about a story that is not given to the reader, it functionally didn't happen. It leaves Lucy looking like she's just making things up when she's talking to Michael, because we were just "there" in that scene and we "saw" none of that. Her reaction - laughing at his discomfort - is weirdly mean-spirited again, since they've had no negative interactions so she just seems like she's picking on him, and of course then there's the delightful Raoul-hating cherry on the top of that sundae, which lets us know that she apparently has no freaking idea what is going on in the musical that she's performing.

Despite Lucy's giggles at her costar, Michael does not find the situation funny. He realizes that they're "up against" something "far worse" than a disgruntled actor. Which… but…. What the hell are they up against and how did Michael, who wasn't even there, find out that Kevin is secretly evil or whatever his working theory is? No one will explain, but Michael decides he had better fire the guy immediately before he "turns the cast against them". I'm not kidding. He's serious. This book is serious.

Lucy is luckily slightly less off the rails and suggests that they, you know, not fire the other leading role that they barely filled a few months before the show opens for literally no reason at all. Michael mutters darkly about "those guys", and is too "shocked" to function directorially after the mind-blowing trauma of Lucy telling him a secondhand tale of a guy being annoyed. He so does not belong in any position of performance power.

Then they run around being suspicious of Kevin, on account of how "eager to learn and please" he is. Yeah. That asshole. You never want that in a performer.

No shit, Michael, the cast didn't volunteer to paint more of the building, even though you're paying them to perform?!?! Performers?!??!! (Also, dude, if you're paying them, congratulations, this is a professional production now.)

The scene in which Lucy and Michael stop to get food from McDonald's for dinner, and then take it home to eat in his mansion's dining room, is unintentionally hilarious but also pretty adorable. Lucy plates it up on his fancy bone china because the fast food wrappers "look wrong" in the million-dollar dining room, and they crack open his prize bottle of wine to have with their lowest common denominator burgers. I can't judge them, because this totally sounds like something I would do.

Then they watch the 2004 movie (which they call "the movie version" with no other description... but we all know which movie version this is) in order to "get ideas" for their own production. Please, spare us. You can't even spring for actual painters, never mind that level of set design. Also, you're going to be confused about how much stuff is in that movie that isn't in the script everyone is currently studying.

Oh, and obviously they were having sex some more in there. I didn't mention it because it was boring.


Chapter 13


It's worth noting that there are no other important or attractive women in this entire book besides Lucy, because god forbid anyone appear who might be "competition" for her status as sexiest and most awesome. Kim, who only appears when Lucy needs a sounding board, is always accompanied by assiduous reminders of the fact that she has a husband and child, to make sure no one gets the wrong idea.

Michael apparently can't jog around the theater without "almost dying", which he notices when he begins wheezing after looking around. Ooh, is this turning into a medical drama? Bad news for a singer, dude, you need those lungs!

Michael is beside himself with jealous rage when Kevin attempts to touch Lucy while they rehearse the love duet their characters have, which is ridiculous but I totally called it a while ago. Alas, his completely unfounded rage is given full justification a little bit later when Kevin corners her later in the parking lot and physically menaces her, because this is the law of the Evil Raoul archetype. Michael fires him and banishes him from the theater, leaving us all to wonder why this is another story that bewilderingly switches the Phantom to the protective lover role and Raoul to the dangerous theatrical stalker one.

Oh, Lucy. She thinks that she doesn't know "all the theatre jargon". He said "blocking".

Kevin, still heavily promoting Senseless Evil: The World Tour, begins calling Lucy and harassing her over the phone, calling her slurs and generally being dangerous and shitty. People, what you need here is a restraining order. You do not want to just sit around waiting until something bad happens and then call for help. Didn't any of you see any versions of the Phantom story?

OKAY, guys, he CAME TO HER HOUSE after she hung up on him, somehow figuring out where it was, and heard you guys having sex, and then called to TAUNT you about it, and you still haven't done ANYTHING. I'm confused. You threatened to call the police when you first fired him. Why don't you DO THAT?

Well, at least telling the "super" is a good first step. Maybe he'll call the police.

Oh, hey, we get a description of Kevin! He's "tall, blonde hair, a little on the tall side." SIGH.


Chapter 14


I'm not surprised that Lucy has a nervous breakdown in this chapter, and pleasantly gratified that it's not only about Kevin but also her realization of all the upheaval in her life recently, including the stress of a sudden engagement and performance and new job all at the same time.

Michael, because he is a tool, responds by having her spend the night at his house and unpacking and moving all the stuff she brought with her into drawers without asking her, because why not add to the experience?

I think this is actually the first chapter since the very beginning in which these two don't have sex.


Chapter 15


Michael, bro, are you being serious right now? You're "sure" that Kevin watched you and Lucy leave her place and go to yours last night and that he knows exactly where she is, but you have just left her in the house alone, with no idea you're leaving, asleep, and you STILL HAVEN'T CALLED THE POLICE YET? What does this guy have to do for you to actually respond to the situation, actually cut an ear off one of you?

Oh, well, if he "left the alarm on", I'm sure that will totally make Lucy less traumatized/assaulted/dead because the security company's beeps start going off. Violent stalkers always respect the sanctity of a home's ADT investment.

Clayfield's writing is characterized by a lot of very weird little asides, where several characters will turn up doing something that is poorly described and makes no sense, and then this will turn out to have no relevance to the plot whatsoever. For example:


"As if on cue, a few of the others stumbled in after what looked like a party the night before.


'You guys sober?' Michael called to them.


'Yeah, we're sober, just heard a hilarious joke,' Elizabeth replied.


Michael looked at the group and realized that they actually didn't look drunk or hungover."


Like... just... what is that even for? I'm thinking that the goal here is to try to have a fun aside that builds character for the side protagonists and makes the book seem more like real life experiences, but it's executed so poorly that it's basically unrecognizable.

Lucy, who is miraculously still stalker-free, calls her father up to inform him of her upcoming nuptials, but much to my amusement has finally wised up and avoids telling him that this is a guy she met a week ago so he won't freak out. She resents it, though. No one understands her love.

Lucy... I just don't even know what to do with you anymore. Do you have an adrenal gland deficiency or something that makes you desensitized to fear or the idea of danger? You're getting out of the shower in your fiancé-of-a-week's house where you've barely ever spent any time, and you know said fiance isn't home, and you know there's a creepy stalker following you around and making threats against you, and you hear an intruder somewhere in the house who hasn't identified themselves... and you respond to that by giggling at your own "paranoia" for entertaining the idea that something might be wrong? Girl, wrench a towel rack off the wall and be prepared to clock a guy, worry about "looking silly" later!

But she's fine, because it's just her creepy stalker fiancé, not the creepy stalker non-fiancé. In the universe of everyone in this book being head over heels for Michael and Lucy and their relationship, I feel like I must be the only one who is freaked out by the scariness and grossness of it all. Let's recap this towering romance, shall we?


1) Michael meets Lucy when she auditions for a show he's directing, gives her the part on the spot, demands she sing for him again, and performs an impromptu duet with her without asking.


2) Michael offers Lucy a job with no idea what skills she has and pressures her to quit her old job and just work for him, doing vague things he never actually describes. He never acknowledges the obvious conflicts of interest at work.


3) Michael calls Lucy multiple times within a few minutes of one another, leaving messages, until he gets her in person and can ask her to dinner.


4) Michael and Lucy have sex after dinner, and he proposes to her the morning of the third day he has known her.


5) Michael steals Lucy's keys while she's sleeping and has her old apartment completely gutted and everything she owns moved into his house, without asking.


6) Lucy asks Michael if he's called the police because of the stalker threatening her and he says that he has, but we never see any evidence of this and the alleged call took place where neither Lucy nor the reader could hear it.


Seriously, Lucy needs more than one restraining order here. Michael is right up there with Kevin on the Creep-O-Meter. I'm starting to wonder if this is a heinous two-man job between Michael and Kevin, working in cahoots to torture this poor girl. Are we watching Don Juan Triumphant in real life right now? Why is no one concerned about this?!

In other things that don’t belong in reality, Lucy and Kim just walk into a bridal shop off the street and are immediately sent to try things on and allowed to do so totally unsupervised or assisted. This might sound legit if you have never been to a bridal shop, but for anyone who has, it's comedy gold.

"She lifted one leg into the bowels of the crinoline..." That's some sexy word choice right there.

Lucy, no doubt inspired by the color palette of certain numbers in certain film versions of certain stage musicals, chooses to eschew the traditional white wedding dress and instead purchase a bright scarlet red one. This is of course very edgy and rebellious, but that's just who she is (and who she is is not Chinese or Hindu or from any other culture that traditionally wears red at weddings, but it was a nice dream). However, I totally cannot make any fun of her for that, because I have seen red wedding dresses and they are FANTASTIC.

Much is made in this chapter of Michael's ridiculous wealth, which continually throws Kim for a loop and is usually shorthand symbolized by his giant mansion. This is another case of a bewilderingly rich Phantom stand-in character; the outcast who once couldn't even interact with society in any way but threateningly can now buy and sell anyone he wants ten times over and has a line around the block of people waiting for a chance to kiss his ass.


Chapter 16


Oh, good, now Michael's demanding that they get married right now because waiting three months to have the wedding in between runs of the show would be "too long". Lucy, he's going to sell you to an eastern European crime syndicate or something. You need to run.


Chapter 17


Kevin, the only antagonist even vaguely approaching providing a plot for this wreck, is bewilderingly dealt with offscreen, which we discover when the other characters off-handedly mention that he was caught by the police while stalking someone else. (Good lord, his calendar must be full.) This is confusing, because without him there is once again no plot and no conflict and no story and we're just watching these ninnies run around yelling about true love and how a week to wait before getting married is just not doable.

This chapter in particular is all about the weighty drama of where to hold the wedding reception. I'm sure you're all as riveted as I am.

In a last gasp of relevancy to the story, Kevin is already "out on good behavior", which... people, it's called bail. I don't think Clayfield knows how the criminal justice system works. Good behavior is what happens after you're convicted and have served some time. Bail is what happens when you can pay the state some money and they say, "Okay, you don't have to sleep in jail, but don't go anywhere until your trial."

Kevin's decision, which no doubt makes his lawyer pray for patience and a new career path, is to immediately round up some faceless hooligans and bring them in to vandalize the theater using "bats and lead pipes" because they are apparently in the Jets. This is possibly the weirdest disconnect of all, because Kevin, the "Raoul" of this book, is now literally paralleling the Phantom's actions in vandalizing and terrorizing the theater because the director refuses to accede to his wishes regarding the show about to be performed, specifically its casting. We have actually done a complete turnabout in which the Phantom is now the gallant, rich, protective lover, and Raoul is now the dangerous stalker who tries to control the theater through terrorism. It's such a complete reversal that it's hard for me to even fathom the fact that Clayfield treats this as completely normal and understood - the writing implies that these qualities are widely understood to apply to these characters in this way.

Later Phantom-based literature, especially in self-published novels, often reassigns many of Raoul's good qualities to the Phantom or vice versa, and since it's so often done in a romantic setting, it frequently appears to be an action taken by the writer to preserve the Phantom's sexy and dangerous air but at the same time grant him the necessary qualities to become a desirable romantic partner. Some books do it a little, some do it a lot... and then there's this book, which I think really epitomizes this trend.

At any rate, Kevin's life of crime is short-lived as the police inform Michael (why are the police giving this guy status updates all the time? aren't they busy and not giving out information about a freaking capture operation over the phone?) that they have him "in their sites". Which I guess means he's already at the police station or something, because otherwise we would have to accept that this is just a homophone mistake and I hate those.

Michael, I'm tired of you! I say that about all the poorly-thought-out Phantom heroes, but it's true nonetheless. Lucy is having another breakdown, this time because the guy who has repeatedly threatened her came to the theater she works at and vandalized the place, upsetting her so badly that she fainted, and your response is to think that you "couldn't help but wonder what it was that had had her so upset"? Take your poor grammar and your nonexistent compassion for other human beings somewhere else, please.

You can see the exact point in my notes where I realized that Lucy's sudden bouts of unexplained nausea and fainting totally mean she's secretly pregnant, because I wrote a big swear instead of even bothering to note down all the ways that reducing pregnancy to a plot point easily pinpointed by the existence of morning sickness is not only wildly inaccurate but also deeply trite.

Michael does all his yelling at Lucy IN ALL CAPS. Which is jarring because it's the only place in the book anyone uses all caps, and it's used to yell at Lucy when she faints, which has the unfortunate effect of making it look like he's angry with her for daring to collapse.


Chapter 18


Christ on a skateboard, Lucy, you're getting married in four weeks and you haven't even made the invitations, let alone sent them? And you're doing them all yourself by hand? I know you’ve had a trying time these past few weeks, what with the rampant monstrous stalkers surrounding you, but that is why humanity invented printing services.


Chapter 19


Snort. Once she does get the invitations out, Lucy has "a mailbox full of replies within days". Oh, you poor, dear lambs that read this and are blissfully unaware of what wedding RSVPs are actually like. I hope your bubbles are never burst.

Michael informs Lucy that he doesn't want her "acting while pregnant", because he's not a controlling creepy douchebag at ALL. Hilariously, he still doesn't know she's pregnant at this time. He's just declaring it on general principle so we don't accidentally start thinking he's a reasonable human being or anything.

I want to share with you now the quintessential sex scene that really encapsulates the full sex scene experience of reading this book. It's on page 270, and is technically graphic, so read at your own risk.

 


"'Oh Michael, make love to me please,' Lucy murmured in response.


It was seconds later when Michael had her in his arms and was carrying her upstairs. He set her down on the bed and slowly undressed her kissing her everywhere he had removed a piece of clothing. He nibbled at her breasts, he flicked his tongue at her belly button.


'Oh Michael, please hurry,' she said.


Michael smiled and stood slowly before he took off his own clothes. He had every intention of making this as long and drawn out as possible.


'Oh, God, Michael,' Lucy said quietly. 'I want you inside me.'


'I love you so much.'


'I love you too,' Lucy whispered between gasps.


Within moments, they had set a rhythm and climaxed together."
 


The End. And that, ladies and gentlemen, has been happening OVER AND OVER AND OVER again throughout this book. It tries so hard to be sexy and titillating, and... that's the result. Clearly, when Michael says he wants this to be "as long and drawn out as possible", he means "within moments". Doesn't speak well of your stamina, buddy.

For a bonus round, the chapter ends with this sentence:


"They made love again with a passion between them they didn't know they had and spent hours after whispering quietly in the dark while touching and holding each other before they finally fell asleep."


You know, whispering and touching and stuff. Whatever it is people do after The Sex.


Chapter 20


All right, we've made it to the wedding! Let's get this sucker over with so we can all go home! But not before the SHOCKING PREGNANCY REVEAL that shocks exactly everyone in the book and no one outside it.

A bit later we hear about "the room Lucy's stuff had been putin." Za navabrátchnyh, y'all.

Lucy informs us that she can't remember a time that she didn't love Michael. So her memory only goes back… a month.

Of course, they sing "All I Ask of You" to one another at the wedding, completing the bewildering circle of Phantom-is-Raoul-is-Phantom again, but at this point, did we expect anything different from them?


Epilogue


Michael and Lucy name their baby Christina Rose, which is a textbook Phantom-baby name if I've ever read one. When she grows up, maybe she can have her very own possessive stalker, too!

And now, finally, at the eleventh hour, Clayfield pulls off a move so brilliantly, unintentionally hilarious that the entire book may have been worth it just to see it happen. The exact last paragraph of the entire book, my friends:


"Bruce hugged them both before he turned to Elizabeth and pulled her into his arms and kissed her. They both stared at one another for a moment before he pulled her back into his arms."


AND SCENE. BOOK OVER!

If you're wondering who the fuck Bruce and Elizabeth are, they're the producer and lead costumer of the show, respectively, and this ending is so goddamned funny to me because not only have they had literally zero character development or importance to this story, but they have never even spoken to each other at any point in the book prior to this. It's like Clayfield realized she wanted to end the book with a passionate declaration of love and kiss, but couldn't use the main characters because they've been together since it started, so she roped in two completely irrelevant and unrelated characters and smushed their faces together. I cried real tears of laughter.

In the end, I really can't hate this book all that hard. It's awful as literature for others' consumption, but it doesn't pretend to be anything other than what it is: wish-fulfillment and fantasy played out on a whole novel's scale, neither of which is inherently bad. I would never recommend that anyone buy it, but I would also never tell Clayfield she shouldn't have written it.

It's just sort of out there, doing its thing. Being bad, but committing to it. There’s a kind of dignity in that.

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