Easy on the EyeS
By Jane Porter
5 Spot; 335 pages; $13.99

Getting older can be tough, especially if you’re the lovely Tiana Tomlinson, host of an Entertainment Tonight-style television show and the narrator of part-time Hawai’i resident Jane Porter’s latest novel, “Easy on the Eyes.”

The novel catapults into action when, at a mere 38 years old, Tiana’s boss begins hinting about her need for plastic surgery and for “young blood” to invigorate her falling ratings. Translation: she’s looking old and they’re going to phase her out if she doesn’t do something quick.

As the seeming inevitability of plastic surgery begins to haunt Tiana, first at work and then in life via the sexy but shallow plastic surgeon Michael O’Sullivan, Porter cleverly uses the topic as both the problem and the solution to moving the novel and Tiana’s life forward for the better—but in a commendably unexpected and believable way. But first Tiana must realize she has been asleep at the wheel of her own life, allowing her focus go on automatic pilot, her lonely love life to be full of meaningless flings to prevent emotional pain, while she stuffs real emotion and vows to “only ever show the world my happy face.”

At once oddly hyper self-aware, yet neurotic and traumatized, Tiana’s grip on her outwardly perfect life begins to loosen, and Porter smartly depicts Tiana confronting issues and questions many women have as they age. Apart from yearning for fulfillment in work and love, however, Tiana’s central query is both a life and career dilemma: “Would I be a different person with a different [physical] image? And who would I become if I did allow myself to age?”

Compounding these struggles is her cloying grief stemming from the death of her reporter husband. But here’s the hitch—at various points, the novel asserts both that his death occurred one year and seven years earlier. Thus Porter’s novel juggles two very different Tianas—one just a year widowed and raw with grief, and one stunted for the past seven years, living as if she can never love again. This glaring error of authorial confusion makes it tough to believe and reconcile all of Tiana’s reactions, motivations, and decisions, as well as resulting plot development.

But as Tiana slowly unearths her secrets, emotions, and vulnerability to save herself and her career, her confession-like, first person narration brings intimacy and reality to the novel, even though at times Porter fails to edit Tiana’s repetitive inner dialogue. The genre-perfect side plot of Tiana’s budding romance with a heart-stoppingly charming bad boy/good boy love interest also successfully motors the plot, but beyond romance and the glamour of Hollywood and celebrities, Porter ensures that “Easy on the Eyes” is fortified with a stimulating intellectual and emotional message, strong conscience and pure heart.

Reviewed by Christine Thomas for the Honolulu Advertiser, 9/13/09