Saturday, September 6, 2003

Getting Over Jack Wagner by Elise Juska

Getting Over Jack Wagner by Elise Juska

Getting Over Jack Wagner (2003) is a novel by Elise Juska about a 26-year-old woman named Eliza Simon. As an avid viewer of General Hospital in the 1980s, the title of the novel caught my attention. Jack Wagner, an actor and musician, played Frisco Jones on the long-running soap opera.

The novel begins with lines of dialogue from General Hospital:

Frisco: Once upon a time there was a rock star who met a princess...
Robin: Did they live happily ever after?
Frisco: Isn’t that how all good stories end?

At age 10, Eliza had a crush on Jack Wagner. Now at age 26, she is still looking for love by dating “rock stars” in Philadelphia. Unfortunately, these musicians never meet her expectations of what a rock star should be. Eliza works as a copywriter for a travel agency where she must convince others to take vacations to destinations that she has never visited herself. She is unhappy with her work as well as with being dissatisfied with her love life. After each “rock star” bites the dust, Eliza’s best friends, Hannah and Andrew, are there to support her. Hannah and Andrew are both in happy relationships, and they are likeable, though poorly developed. Throughout the story, Eliza could analyze why she is so critical of others and why she wants her relationships to fail. Unfortunately, she seems happier to wallow in her self-defeating cycle.

The best parts of the story are the 80s and early 90s references to song titles at the start of each chapter and the nostalgic references to television shows of that era. Eliza reminisces about 1984, saying:

"The beauty of eighties music was this: rock stars weren't afraid to speak their feelings. Back then, it wasn't corny. It wasn't suspicious. It wasn't desperate. They could spill their guts in a flood of synthesizers, cymbals, A-B-A-B rhyme schemes and long notes high as women's…As a grown-up, I find that kind of openness terrifying. But in 1984, it was acceptable, even desirable, and it was the way I loved Jack Wagner: with confidence, fearlessness, and a T-shirt bearing a steam-ironed decal of his sultry face."

At the end of the novel, Eliza reaches a surprise resolution and feels she can express unashamed, honest, and fearless love once again. The ending was possibly a twist to avoid the “chick lit” cliche of a man solving a woman’s problems and providing her with happiness. Additionally, it may have aimed to make an unsympathetic character more likeable. Still, the ending felt forced and the novel lacked a real resolution. Eliza came across as self-defeating, whiny, and pathetic throughout. It was nearly impossible to believe that she would change, and as a reader, I was left not caring much if she does change or not.

Purchase and read books by Elise Juska:

Getting Over Jack Wagner by Elise Juska One for Sorrow, Two for Joy by Elise Juska


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