Joy Fielding’s The Wild Zone begins when a personal trainer, a dishonourably discharged Afghanistan war veteran, and a Princeton philosophy Ph.D. walk into a bar and make a bet over who can sleep with the pretty, quiet girl alone with her martini. Suzy Bigelow, naturally, has secrets and an agenda of her own, and she leads them all on a wild and deadly ride which, though two-dimensional, is remarkably compelling.
Although the plot is fast-paced, the characters are flatter than a set of popped breast implants.
Jeff is bachelor number one: a moderately well-dressed guy who always gets the girl, or at least gets into her pants. He’s dating Kristin, a hot bartender who lets him sleep around, and whom he treats like crap. While he has a momentary lapse of character development, by the end of the novel he seems to have gone down an all-too-expected path.
Bachelor number two is a quiet, insecure grad student writing a dissertation on Heidegger. Unlike Jeff, his half-brother, Will never gets the girl and is bad at even trying. The most likeable of the trio, Will’s opportunity to shine is nonetheless tarnished by the indecisiveness that plagues him throughout the novel.
Bachelor number three isn’t a bachelor at all – at least, not until his wife’s divorce papers go through. Tom was dishonourably discharged from the Army after raping a young Afghan girl, and falls into an ex-army-guy mould in the worst way. He’s angry, he’s a misogynist, and he works at the Gap. Everything is everyone else’s fault.
And where the male characters are shallow and abusive, the women are too submissive, too stereotyped, and too neurotic to induce reader interest. Every single one is abused – in most cases several times – by page 48. The men have their own troubled childhoods fraught with mommy issues, daddy issues – or both. But the women are exposed to a world of horror that Fielding seems to excuse almost completely until the very end. And even that isn’t enough to make readers care about what happens to them.
Surprisingly, The Wild Zone is listed under the Gay & Lesbian fiction category – a listing that doesn’t become relevant until 98.9 per cent of the way through the book. In an ending that reads more like a sensationalized, ratings-boosting cop-out than a genuinely rewarding conclusion, readers are left wondering what just happened. For a novel filled with stereotypes, this one is the worst – and while the ending is a welcome relief in some ways and a shock in others, it is too little, too late when it comes to saving the rest of the novel.
The Wild Zone presents a world in which people are judged by the colour of their pomegranate martinis. A world where people are described by height and hair colour, not personality. A world where women are merely the punch lines to jokes by slightly drunk, very desperate men. And while Fielding seems all too familiar with this world, it’s time she grew out of it.