As research for her MFA dissertation, Jennifer Crusie determined to read 100 romance novels. Crusie had never explored that genre, and she was convinced she would find it difficult to wade through that types of books. To her surprise, she discovered that she enjoyed the genre, so much so that she became a literary critic for the genre and began writing romance novels herself.
She finished her initial draft of Bet Me in 1992. There was no interest from the publishing industry, and Crusie put the manuscript aside. Over the next ten years, Crusie sold several short category romances, and then signed with St. Martin's Press to release longer single-title novels. In 2002, Crusie's editor at St. Martin's Press, Jennifer Enderlin, agreed to purchase Bet Me, provided Crusie rewrote it.
The book was released February 10, 2004. The book was given much support by the publisher, including ads in The New York Times and Glamour. To further support the book, Crusie embarked on a national book-signing tour. At Crusie's insistence, the cover of the book featured a cherry. This was a nod to her online fans, who had named themselves "The Cherries". Critic Kimberly Baldus sees the cherry "as a wink from author to readers and back again, creating a sense of a community forged through shared knowledge and insights about the novel". Crusie herself references the sense of community between readers and authors, describing it as "one of the most powerful aspects of the romance novel".
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The novel begin as the heroine, Minerva "Min" Dobbs, a chubby, 33-year-old actuary, is dumped by her boyfriend, David. He is upset that she has refused to have sex with him; she's irritated that she is now without a date to her sister's upcoming wedding. Min retreats to one corner of the bar to be comforted by her two best friends, Bonnie and Liza. At the other end of the bar, David finds acquaintance Calvin "Cal" Morrisey and his friends. Cal has a reputation as a ladies' man and someone full of luck, who has never lost a bet. David bets Cal $10,000 that he can't get Min into bed within a month. Cal refuses to accept the bet, but does accept a $10 bet that he can get Min to go to dinner with him. Unbeknownst to Cal, Min has overheard the conversation. but believes that Cal has agreed to try to seduce her for the money. She accepts the invitation to dinner and insists he hand over the money he earned from fulfilling the bet. They are not impressed with each other - she is upset about the bet, he thinks she is grumpy.
In much of mainstream American culture, it is unusual to see an overweight female as the object of romantic of sexual interest. The larger the woman, the more likely it is that she will be ridiculed rather than embraced. Crusie's novels depart from this stereotype; her heroines are not necessarily young and thin and physically perfect. According to critic Kyra Kramer, Crusie's use of heroines who are overweight, such as Minerva, the protagonist of Bet Me, "communicates a compelling feminist message of women’s empowerment and emancipation from some elements of the hegemonic gender ideology". Min is described most often as "chubby". The author never reveals specifics of Min's size. Rather than present her body as an object to be viewed, Crusie focuses on feelings, gestures, and reactions. Secondary characters interpret her size differently; some describe her as fat, some as voluptuous. Readers can relate to the conflicting descriptions, as the characters' debate reflects society's inability to agree on a single acceptable body size.
Although she is not morbidly obese, Min expends significant mental energy worrying about her weight and her desirability. This is exacerbated by her mother, who constantly stresses that Min must be thin in order to catch and keep a husband, just as society reinforces the idea that the ideal woman is thin. Although Min half-heartedly diets in an attempt to fit into a bridesmaid dress, throughout the novel every likable character encourages her to stop trying to change herself. Her attempt to cook low-fat food is a disaster, replaced by a gourmet meal.
The hero, Cal, is described as very attractive, and from the beginning of the book Min doubts his attraction to her. Crusie allows Min to question her long-held beliefs about her own attractiveness as Cal shows that he is not only not disgusted by her body, but he is actually turned on by her enjoyment of food. He validates her desire for enjoyment of both food and sex, offering her the rich foods that she wants but has denied herself, and then, when she gains the courage to ask for what she wants, he provides it without making her feel guilty. Cal helps her to learn to embrace her body. By the end of the novel, Min has chosen to revel in her shape and gather a new wardrobe that flaunts her body instead of hides it.
Min's self-reinvention extends also to her underwear. In one scene, Nanette scolds Min for wearing white cotton underwear, because only sexy, lacy underwear will attract and keep a husband. Crusie appears to give credence to this theory, describing Cal's "light-headed" moments when he catches a glimpse of Min's new red lace bra, before shattering it when Cal tells - and shows - Min that he finds her equally attractive in scruffy sweats as in fancy lace. Despite what her mother has consistently told her, Min learns that a man will love her despite her lingerie and despite her weight.
Cal is also shown as fighting against stereotypical gender norms. His acquaintances believe him to be a womanizer and expect him to continue to act in that manner. Although he finds the bets revolving around his contact with Min distasteful, he is constantly pressured to fulfill them. He also faces pressure from his parents to conform and to join the family law firm. Min stands up for him and his choices. Because they are each supporting the other, each rescuing the other, they become allies. Cal is not her savior; they are equals.
Romantic Times reviewer Jill M. Smith gave the novel 4.5 out of 5 stars, praising Crusie's use of humor and her eccentric characters. Review in both Publishers Weekly and Entertainment Weekly praised the character of Minerva but gently chided the predictability of the plot. Library Journal reviewer Margaret Hanes also noted the novel's formulaic nature but found it was rescued by the well-drawn characters and witty dialogue, resulting in an enthusiastic recommendation. In Booklist, John Charles judged that Crusie appropriately balanced cynicism versus optimism, resulting in a ""wickedly witty" novel.
The editors of Crimson Romance named the book one of the 100 Best Romance Novels of all time for its "memorable characters [and] heartfelt and humorous look at how two different people can find their common ground"". These reviewers enjoyed the subplot surrounding Cal's ex and her view of love through the focus of biology and instinct; Entertainment Weekly, on the other hand, dismissed that subplot as useless psychobabble.
The novel was nominated for the 2004 Romantic Times award for Best Contemporary Novel (with Romantic Elements) and won the Romance Writers of America's prize, the Rita Award, in 2005 for Best Contemporary Single Title.
- Moore, Kate; Selinger, Eric Murphy (April 30, 2012), "The Heroine as Reader, the Reader as Heroine: Jennifer Crusie's Welcome to Temptation", Journal of Popular Romance Studies, 2 (2), retrieved February 19, 2015
- Crusie, Jennifer. "Bet Me". JennyCrusie.com. Retrieved March 15, 2015.
- Baldus, Kimberly (April 30, 2012), "Gossip, Liminality, and Erotic Display: Jennifer Crusie's Links to Eighteenth-Century Amatory Fiction", Journal of Popular Romance Studies, 2 (2)
- "Bet Me". Publishers Weekly. 2004. Retrieved March 15, 2015.
- quoted in Baldus, from one of Crusie's web posts.
- Kramer, Kyra (April 30, 2012), "Getting Laid, Getting Old, and Getting Fed: The Cultural Resistance of Jennifer Crusie's Romance Heroines", Journal of Popular Romance Studies, 2 (2), retrieved February 19, 2015
- Brown, Sonya C. (March 2011). "Does This Book Make Me Look Fat?". Journal of Popular Romance Studies. 1 (2). Retrieved March 17, 2015.
- Vivanco, Laura (April 30, 2012). "Jennifer Crusie's Literary Lingerie". Journal of Popular Romance Studies. 2 (2). Retrieved March 15, 2015.
- Rosenberg, Alyssa (March 19, 2013). "Of Course Romance Novels are Feminist—and They're Not Just Good for Women". Slate. Retrieved March 15, 2015.
- Smith, Jill M. "Bet Me". Romantic Times. Retrieved March 15, 2015.
- "Bet Me". Entertainment Weekly. February 20, 2004. Retrieved March 15, 2015.
- Hanes, Margaret (2010). "Bet Me". Library Journal.
- Charles, John (December 1, 2003). "Bet Me". Booklist. Missing or empty
- Lawler (2013), p. 28.
- Lawler (2013), p. 29.
- RITA Awards, Romance Writers of America, archived from the original on July 14, 2015, retrieved February 13, 2015
- Lawler, Jennifer, ed. (2013). "Chapter 6: Bet Me". The 100 Best Romance Novels: From Pride and Prejudice to Twilight: Books to Fall in Love - and Lust - With. Adams Media. ISBN 9781440560989.