My Sunshine
by Catherine Anderson, contemporary (2005)
Signet, $6.99, ISBN 0-451-21380-7


She's back at last! And here I am thinking that Catherine Anderson has given up on exploiting the paralyzed, disfigured, mentally handicapped, sexually abused, and other kind of victims for her all-you-can-shovel-down-your-mouth sugar buffet. My Sunshine is a wonderful reassurance that I can always rely on this author to exploit any kind of mental or physical deformity that does not in any way affect the heroine's bra size or weight to create a story so monumentally sentimental that cynics will just die from reading this book.

Environmental researcher (translation: sings happy Disney songs while animals eat out of her hands) Laura Townsend, suffers from a brain damage that causes her to be stricken with aphasia. That means she finds it extremely difficult to communicate with people. Actually, aphasia works both ways in the sense that people with aphasia cannot process the language spoken by other people but Ms Anderson isn't above taking "creative bends" to keep the sugar pouring in the less complicated manner possible. Our hero is Isaiah Coulter. He is a vet. His mother hires Laura to work at the Crystal Falls vet center. Isaiah is attracted to Laura and his attraction, from what I can see, stems from the fact that she looks like a Maxim centerfold while behaving like the new Earth Mother Gaia around animals while being helpless and child-like in the company of other people. In short, this is a typical Catherine Anderson romance.

Naturally, Laura doesn't think she is whole enough for Isaiah while Isaiah spends 200 pages trying to come up with contrived reasons as to why this story shouldn't end 200 pages early. Ms Anderson relies on the tried and true trick of having Laura framed for some "unusual accidents" around the doggie kennels. Love means the man saving the heroine so yes, at the end of the day, it's love.

If you cannot stand melodramatic sentimentality, stay away from this book. I love animals, I love dogs especially, but it becomes quite ridiculous when the author starts portraying the vets in the book as celebrated unsung superheroes of the world. I mean, give me a break, really. The dogs are everything in this book, the world stops when they are in trouble, and the sad thing is, the dogs in this book come off as dancing cartoon characters trying way too hard to be cute rather than actual dogs. I am familiar with practices around an animal shelter as I spend time helping out at the local shelter. The fact that I do this unfortunately allows me to see how the author shamelessly takes "creative bends" so that the daily practices in an animal shelter will come off as even more like an overlong Disney cartoon where not only Bambi's mother dies, but she dies only after finishing epic ballad in the voice of Celine Dion.

The romance, the mystery - everything in this book, really, is just slipshod half-baked plot contrivances designed to be as sloppily sentimental as possible. Quite perplexingly, Ms Anderson shares no love for other women that can pose as a threat to Laura's beauty so there is a number of scenes in this book where the hero's twin brother Buy-My-Book-Next, er, Tucker comes off as a misogynist as a result of Ms Anderson's unthinking subscription to the "it's always the woman's fault" policy.

Ms Anderson is an author who can mutate any genuine handicap or trauma into a dumbed-down saccharine "I'm so pretty and have big breasts but see, I can't speak, I have been raped up and down, I am in a wheelchair, or I will be stricken with whatever condition Ms Anderson stumbles upon next in her trusty handbook of medical terms, but won't you, my hunky sirrah, love me for my helplessness, neediness, codependency, and my perfect centerfold body? I will be so grateful if you do" melodrama. A part of me is always stunned at how far the author has the audacity to go when it comes to taking any serious condition, stripping it of ugly truths and prettying it up into a "waif needs love - if only we can see how special she really is inside!" disease of the week Hallmark special, and turning it into a contrivance for rescue fantasies. Ms Anderson's Down Syndrome women will all be Thomas Kinkades in the making, but then again, people with Down Syndrome don't fit the Crippled Barbie template of the author's heroines, looks-wise, so I don't think I will be seeing artistic genius Down Syndrome heroines finding love soon. Another part of me admires such ruthless and cold-hearted exploitation that is pure laissez-faire in motion. When it comes to latter, My Sunshine is a work of pure genius.

Rating: 48


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