Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Because Rae Meadows is a first-time novelist, it's almost impossible to read her book Calling Out without trying to figure out what kind of writer she means to be. Is she aiming for commercial, literary, or somewhere between? Meadows gives the game away early, when her narrator/heroine Jane starts talking about what she left behind when she moved from New York City to Utah—namely, a self-absorbed screenwriter ex-boyfriend who didn't make her "feel okay." It's kind of mean—not to mention probably sexist—to tag a book like this as chick-lit, but when Jane collects herself after a hard day by downing a whole pint of ice cream, the genre clichés are hard to ignore.

It's a shame, too, because Calling Out shows glimmers of promise. Meadows finds a fresh nook to explore in Salt Lake City, a clean, friendly metropolis where graciousness is practically enforced by law. Jane—like her creator, if the author bio is to be believed—answers phones at a state-licensed escort service, hearing the covert yearnings of devout Mormons looking for a woman to sit and talk with them for a while, preferably without clothes on. Then Jane—unlike her creator, presumably—decides to try being an escort herself, seduced by the idea of being special, if only to one man on one night.

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Jane's progression from desk clerk to professional naked person seems more driven by the demands of fiction than the real needs of the character, but Calling Out does perk up once the heroine starts knocking on hotel doors. The book moves briskly from one lurid incident to the next, while Jane sorts through her conflicted feelings for her ex-boyfriend, a kindly new guy in her life, and her male best friend. Meadows shows a full understanding of how it feels to avoid old problems by creating dangerous new ones, but Calling Out never runs much deeper than the prurient. Here's a disillusioned New Yorker looking for meaning in the dirtiest part of the cleanest part of the desert, and after all the promising setup, her story winds up being about choosing the right man. That's a character—and a premise—wasted.

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