Sick of all those losers you’ve been dating? Send them to Cassandra’s: she’ll have them shaped up in no time.
Best known for his tongue-in-cheek “Rex” dinosaur p.i. mystery series, Garcia (Matchstick Men, 2002, etc.) shows himself an adroit student of the chick-lit genre—before giving it a serious goosing. Cassandra French is likable, all things told, even though at 29 she’s a self-involved in-house lawyer for a big movie studio with a bevy of annoying ticks (such as assigning herself letter grades in all aspects of life). Still, she generally comes off as well meaning. It doesn’t hurt that her two best friends, Claire and Lexi (the latter, like her dogs, is “beautiful, vicious, and easily distracted”), are even shallower, so Cassandra’s general lack of interest in work or anything outside finding a man or dealing with her under-house-arrest mother, doesn’t look so bad. Garcia pulls off a pretty amazing sleight-of-hand here: just when he has you settling into a vacuous, glittery, forgettable read, he drops the bomb. The finishing school of the title isn’t a metaphor, and those “boys” in Cassandra’s basement whom she’s always running home from the office to feed aren’t dogs. They’re three men she’s kidnapped and kept, chained and drugged, while she puts them through a months-long program of cultural, social, and sexual etiquette training. Even though they’re cuffed and weak from all the morphine and low-protein foods, the guys—all buffoons who disappointed her in some fashion, including one who pulled a drunken grope during a blind date at a baseball game—appreciate what Cassandra’s doing for them. This proves helpful when a fourth one (Brad Pitt–hot actor Jason Kelly) gets chloroformed and tossed into the population after seducing Cassandra for less-than-romantic reasons. Garcia knows the conventions so well that his satire slithers by almost unnoticed.
Bridget Jones with a chainsaw: don’t be surprised if this is one of the more popular beach-reads of the summer.