by Catherine Anderson, contemporary (1999)
Avon, $6.50, ISBN 0-380-79937-5
This book could might as well be the third in an ongoing series of Damsel In Really, Extremely, Terribly Dire Distress Rescued by Prince In Shiny Rolls-Royce stories by this author. Make no mistake, one of my greatest fantasies since adolescence is a sensitive, loving, laughing man who understands my moods and thoughts, cheer me up and be my anchor when I'm down, and be my best friend and greatest supporter and lover when I'm happy. Of course, you may ask, But how about Mr Giggles? Honey, I married a mere mortal. Some dreams are best kept as dreams. A man who can read my moods is rather scary to live with anyway.
Yet this book doesn't grab my attention much. No thanks, Ms Anderson, but you've made me realized what a horrible cynic I've become. I can't read about The Perfect Man Rescuing The Heroine In Extreme Duress without wincing. Especially when the whole scenario seems forced.
Maggie Stanley is really in trouble. Horribly beaten and running away with her baby from her nasty stepfather, only to be almost assaulted by a couple of ruffians in a boxcar, she is rescued by a drunkard ragamuffin fellow who turns out to be millionaire rancher Rafe Kendrick. Maggie, malnourished, abused, and drained to the point of exhaustion, finally collapses in Rafe's arms. Rafe falls in love with her baby Jaimie and eventually, her. When he hears about her plight, he marries her in order to protect her and Jaimie from that illegitimate donkey bad-woman-scum of a stepdaddy Lonnie. Ah, but can Maggie trust Rafe, a man?
BL could might as well be the author's last book, the historical romance Cherish transplanted to present day. The premise is the same: the heroine just cannot stay out of really, awfully dreadful trouble - or rather, trouble keeps befalling her - until the hero steps in. Here, Maggie faces so many traumas, psychological scars, and abuse that after a while it's like overkill. There's sexual abuse, physical abuse, malnourishment, almost gang-rape, being browbeaten, and the final straw is seeing her assaulted by Lonnie in the hospital where she's admitted (of all places!). No woman should face this much abuse.
Rafe starts out wonderfully tortured - he is guilt ridden over his beloved wife and children's death and is traveling on alcohol and whim, becoming a bum in his desperation to seek solace and forgetfulness. Yet when he sees Maggie, he immediately drops the bottle, sobers up, and brings Maggie home to his welcoming family.
The first chapter has Rafe dreaming of his wife - a too-short scene that move me to tears. Indeed, the first few chapters of the book are classic material - moving, quiet moments of bared souls and shared thoughts that are simply beautiful. It is unfortunate that the author twists what can be a moving, epic saga of a woman's self discovery of her inner strength to a The-Brady-Bunch-meets-Bluto story. Lonnie is so over-the-top as the bad guy, declaring in redneck accents his evil intentions towards Maggie and Jaimie in full public hearing - he's as subtle as a nuclear holocaust, yet inexplicably no one is able to pin that man down. Me, if I'm Maggie, I'd carry a tape recorder with me - next time that idiot twists my wrists and threatens more abuse, well, click the RECORD button and that donkey-orifice is off to share a cell with Big Bad Jack. He just keeps coming back for more nasty antics, again and again, that after a while, he seems more like the Energizer Bunny meets The Terminator. All that's missing is I'll be back spoken in hilly-billy accent.
Maybe it's just me, but I also find that every plot twist and turn in this story seems to be designed specially to give Maggie back her self-confidence, logic and any other trivial nonsense begone. Maggie is a wonderful bookkeeper - and golly gee, a big, rich, mega-wealthy clan called the Kendricks could use her advice (how on earth they get this rich pre-Maggie's-good-advice, I dare not speculate). Then there's the classic awaken my lib... er, love scenario where Rafe shows Maggie the joys of the horizontal macarena. Could be moving, and perfectly understandable in the context of the story, but this is the third book in a row by this author that features this scenario. I'm getting bored by it all. Then there's the Kendricks and their allies. Perfect people, with perfect teeth, and they all share the same thought bubble. Every good guy is rightfully appalled by Maggie's past and wants to be her champion, every one is kind to her and accepts her with open arms, especially Good Strangers. The Kendricks live in a luxurious, impossibly wide acres of farmland - lush, green, bountiful, and look, that's probably a rainbow arching over the perfectly blue sky too, with those beautiful friendly birds flying around us. Ah there's Ma Brady beckoning us for dinner of ten course yummies...
See what I mean? I never knew I'm such a dreadful cynic. This book has so many nice, perfect people who help Maggie. Maggie deserves such happiness after all she's been through. But me, I find the characters horribly uniform in thought processes (if I read another Good Chivalrous Male Sibling/Stranger/Friend offering to beat up Lonnie after seeing Maggie, and if Rafe says yet again "Stand in line", I'm going to scream), a bit too golden around their halos, and definitely not anything in my definition of Realism.
Perhaps that's what this story is best regarded as: an escapist fantasy into a perfect, pleasant world where everything is immaculately faultless except for the ugly fat bad guys who speak in uneducated accents or smell funny and have names like Lonnie. Me, I'm off to watch The Simpsons.
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