Phantom Waltz
by Catherine Anderson, contemporary (2001)
Onyx, $6.99, ISBN 0-451-40989-2


Firstly, may I commend what a beautiful title this book has? Phantom Waltz - doesn't it just ring with poignant romanticism? Especially considering that the heroine Bethany Coulter is a paraplegic, and while I'm not sure if paraplegics experience phantom limps like amputees, the whole image Phantom Waltz conjures - a paraplegic dreaming of dancing with her sweetheart - is achingly bittersweet.

The story, however, is typical Catherine Anderson Rescue Fantasy Redux. Unlike her recent books for Avon, though, the heroine Bethany is stronger than the usual weepy, overly-traumatized heroines the author favors. But it's still a rescue fantasy, nonetheless, a shamelessly manipulative one that will leave some readers breathless and others insulted.

Ryan Kendrick, super duper rancher with pots and pots of money, falls right away from Bethany at page 2, when she flirts with him from behind the counter where she tends her father's store. A former barrel-racer until an accident cost her the use of her legs, Bethany is confined to a wheelchair, and has issues regarding her self-worth and whether a man can love her despite her wheelchair.

The rest of this story has Ryan Showing Bethany the True Way of Love and Life. Watch Ryan teach Bethany to swim! Watch Ryan coddle Bethany who mourns that no man will love her! Watch Ryan patiently coaxes Bethany after she sulks off in a tantrum caused by her own insecurities! And of course, the dancing, oh, the dancing.

There's a thin line between being heartfelt and respectful and between being outright condescending. A hero who is one-dimensionally perfect, with little discerning flaws, putting the heroine's life in order as she sulks and plays hard to get - this plot seems to me more like a lazy piece of sentimental weepie. There is no mistake that Ms Anderson has done a lot of research on paraplegics and the difficulties they face in catching up with life, but she approaches the story in an unfortunately high-handed messiah-like tone. Behold, Perfect Man rescues Imperfect Heroine! This lazy depiction of a flawless Mr Right demolishes everything the author says about wanting to create a story with imperfect characters. Apparently, equal opportunities don't extend to the hero, and equal opportunities equate someone perfect and rich (don't forget rich, oh yeah) saving a passive paraplegic mired in self-pity.

Phantom Waltz is very readable, but my feeling manipulated by an author whose style seems to be high-handed sentimentality rather than low-key, more effective drama affects my enjoyment of this story a lot. Put it this way: Phantom Waltz is this close to being a perfect people superiority tale of perfect people with perfect teeth delivering poor imperfect creatures salvation and happiness. And all because the author chooses to write coddle and pamper fantasies with little credible character development. Sentimentality over good storytelling. Someone's bound to feel used.

Rating: 82


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