Part One: in which Luc, professional hockey player facing the end of his career, returns to his childhood home to convince his dying father not to marry the heroine, Tara Jean Sweet, who's playing the role of gold-digging bimbo. Tara isn't really engaged to Luc's father, Lyle; she's just playing the part, one that Lyle knows will infuriate his children. Luc thinks his father is a mean old sonovabitch, but that only heightens his contempt for Tara; he knows she can't really love Lyle; nobody does.
Part Two: the Stupid Suspense Plot section. This is when Tara gets to stop playing gold-digging bimbo and start acting like herself, a damaged woman whose real passion is designing clothing. Tara and Luc develop a real friendship, spiced with intense attraction; meanwhile, Tara's Evil Ex Boyfriend appears on the scene to make Tara feel unworthy and also push the plot along with a bunch of insane threats.
Part Three: the "this is just temporary" section, when Tara and Luc have stopped fighting with their attraction to one another, but mutually insist that they just want a fun fling.
Part One is fantastic. It lasts through the first 40% of the novel and, man, does it hit all the right notes. Parts are funny and witty; parts are poignant and bittersweet; parts are quite dark. The writing is very smooth, the characters and their conflicts interesting. I was so excited about CAN'T BUY ME LOVE during Part One.
But then I arrived at Parts Two and Three. The villain is ridiculous. Occasionally glimpses of real conflict emerge from the villain's bullying, as when Tara has to face up to her own former crimes - that was awesome. But for the most part, the suspense plot just drags CAN'T BUY ME LOVE down into the realm of the familiar, tried-and-true formula romance. Tara comes up with a series of awful solutions to her problem: she'll give into the Evil Ex's demands! She'll run away and start fresh under a new name! that put stress on her romance but accomplish precisely nothing. Meanwhile, Luc feels protective and...y'know, yawn.
Luc has his own existential challenge to face; he's got a history of concussions, a bit of brain damage, and yet he's determined to stick with the pros for one more season. He knows it's the wrong thing to do, but hockey is his life. Instead of really delving into this massive identity crisis, Luc ignores the problem and focuses on coaching a peewee team instead. I get that coaching is supposed to "humanize" an outsize character, but man am I tired of reading romances about professional athletes that revolve around coaching children, and I was sorry to see this compelling, edgy crisis devolve into something so bland.
We also get a fair number of chapters from the POV of Luc's sister, Victoria. This was obvious sequel baiting, but I hated Victoria, and there is zero chance I would ever read a sequel in which she's a protagonist.
So the book loses steam, it switches away from being delightful and original to a familiar, formulaic muddle, and then it stutters to a surprisingly rushed conclusion. This is O'Keefe's first single title after writing a mess of category Harlequins and I feel like she reached for greatness, stumbled a bit, and then fell back on all her old category tricks. It's just not the book it could have been, despite the stellar beginning.
CAN'T BUY ME LOVE is a book with three distinct parts, and I have to say I liked each one a little bit less than the previous.