I almost didn’t pick up up Susan Elizabeth Phillips’ 1991 novel Hot Shot from the library, because of its generic romance novel cover. No, not the shirtless hunk with the bosomed maiden, but the anti-bodice ripper covers that have been churned out of late…generic pastoral scenes or flower sprigs. This one featured an idyllic lake with a solitary rowboat and a huge shock of purple flowering bushes. And it colored my perception of what the book might be about. However, having had experience with Phillips before, and flipping through the first few pages, I put my reservations aside and checked it out.
I’m so delighted I did!
It’s funny that cover designs are so important to this genre, to the point where it doesn’t reflect what’s on the inside. Nowhere does a rowboat or flowering plant figure into this story! I wouldn’t even call it a “romance novel,” though romance is a definite element. The driving thrust of the tale is Susannah Faulconer growing and coming into her own. That actually tends to be a theme in many of Phillips’ book…the men are important, but not as important as the heroine finding her way and discovering what she wants out of life.
In this particular case, Susannah’s journey takes place during the ’70s and ’80s and the early rise of the personal computer industry. It celebrates brash ideas and geek culture and name checks Apple’s Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak, as well as IBM and Atari. There is more talk of processors and chips and motherboards in Hot Shot than there is throbbing members and heaving chests. It’s a wonderfully well-researched novel about friends pursuing a dream. Phillips is actually stellar at pulling one into a world. I remember how effortlessly she painted Hollywood in her debut contemporary, Glitter Baby, and she does something similar here.
I was reading Hot Shot at dinner, on the train, before bed, and finished it up this morning, all with a sense of deep satisfaction.