Big Girls Don't Cry
by Donna Hill, Brenda Jackson, Monica Jackson, and Francis Ray; contemporary (2005)
Signet, $6.50, ISBN 0-451-21376-9


Big Girls Don't Cry is the latest addition to Signet's successful series of anthologies featuring plus sized heroines. Apart from the fact that the heroines aren't the usual skinny types, the four stories aren't too memorable, although Monica Jackson's heroine comes close to stealing the show in the first half of the author's novella.

Donna Hill's Dr. Love has successful but overworked Tricia Spencer landing in hospital after her heart falters in the middle of her ad pitch. It's either that tub of ice cream she ate the night before or the mountain of Chinese food she ate before the ice cream, I suspect. Dr Michael Evans offers our heroine some extra-comfy bedside care to make her hospital stay more pleasant.

This story drags because in the first half of the story, the two main characters rarely interact with each other. The "courtship" consists of each of them either thinking about how hot the other person is or telling friends how hot that other person. Once Tricia's family story comes out (she has a family to care for), the story turns into a tedious Skinny Beautiful Evil Sister versus Good Big Sized Heroine battle for the handsome doctor. I know skinny people have been making big sized people the butt of jokes for years and a little payback won't hurt, but this whole Thin Is Evil and Big Is Beautiful thing is trite and overdone. In a novella, won't the limited space be better off used for character and relationship development instead? Especially since these two things are lacking in this novella.

Also quite disappointing is how the story seems content to bring up the consequences of Tricia's overeating to her health only to drop that issue altogether once Tricia meets her hunky doctor. I find it strange that a doctor will let the matter of Tricia's overeating slip, especially when he's supposed to be in love with her.

Brenda Jackson's The Perfect Seduction is very nice indeed, especially for a story with a premise that makes no sense at all. Thirteen years ago, Megan James and Tyler Savoy were young and madly in love. Alas, her grandfather decided that Megan getting too intimate with Tyler would jeopardize her chances of going to college (women, after all, couldn't be trusted to have some common sense) so he had Tyler promising never to rob Megan's precious vee-vee. So on that prom night thirteen years ago, Megan wanted to offer Tyler herself but after doing everything but actually sampling dessert, Tyler turned her down. Of course, he didn't explain why he turned her down, letting her believe the worst. I don't blame him though. "I'm a pathetic loser who allows your grandfather to castrate me" doesn't sound like something one would tell a girlfriend. But then again, would any randy young man agree to such a promise in the first place?

Today, she is a college professor while he plays with horses. Their randy horses bring the two together again and now she wants the prom night he didn't give her thirteen years ago. But Tyler still feels obligated to keep the promise he made all those years ago. Sheesh. This story really puzzles me because of several things. One, their family keep in contact all these years, thanks to gossipy aunts, so I don't know why these two couldn't call or write all these years. Especially when, two, these people are supposedly so in love that, three, she broke off an engagement to another man after she realized that she loves Tyler and she has been keeping her vee-vee intact just for him and he loves her just as much. Four, since they both love each other and she harbors no hard feelings or misguided sense of rejection over the prom night fiasco (she knows about Tyler's promise to her grandfather some time after the prom night), I don't understand why these two can't just date like normal people instead of playing silly games with each other. Six, I don't really see any harsh or concrete objection from their family members over the relationship so the whole Grandfather Makes Him Promise scene thing seems out-of-character.

Tyler and Megan have decent chemistry and if the author focuses more on the present instead of putting in too many flashback scenes of the twosome's Perfect, Sweet, Sweet Love, the relationship would be more memorable. But the premise of the story doesn't hold water as it has too many inconsistencies and even absurdities. This is one story that would be more enjoyable if the author has worked out the premise of the story much more than she actually did.

Monica Jackson's Through The Fire has a wonderful heroine, the plus sized ultra-confident "dominatrix at heart" maneater Cherise Givens. How can I not love a heroine who holds this belief?

It hardly ever mattered that she was big. She learned long ago that what mattered was the value a woman put on herself. When the clothes came off, if she knew without a doubt that her body was fine, he'd know it for sure, too. She'd had plenty of men who once they tried her - the higher grade cut, the one with plenty of fat - they weren't able to go back to gnawing on soup bone and gristle. No, her weight never cost her any man worth having.

Larger than life, brassy, and still searching for a man to handle all she can give (many have tried and been sent away), she meets her match when she hires hunky Shepard Fraser, an artist, to give her salons a new image. Unfortunately, her plans of seduction take a backseat when the pilot of the plane taking the both of them to LA drops dead and the plane drops down. Whoops. What happens is like a milder and more politically correct version of that movie Swept Away transplanted into the wilderness. While Cheryl's outdoor adventures are not without their moments, I find myself wondering how the story would have turned out if Cheryl is allowed to seduce her man. The plane crash causes the story to take an unexpected turn (unexpected, that is, if I haven't read the back blurb) but it also subdues most of Cheryl's flamboyant personality that makes her so appealing in the first place. Cheryl comes off as instead silly at too many times. The old Cheryl reemerges once they get back to civilization, which only makes me wish that Ms Jackson has taken a different kind of approach altogether when it comes to Cheryl's story. Still, this is the story that I enjoyed the most in the anthology.

Francis Ray closes the anthology with His Everything Woman, where our hero Neal Dunbar hires Cara Scott to pretend to be his wife so that he can... well, that's part of the Big Surprise waiting for Cara so I'll not elaborate further. Cara is actually a professional pretend-wife. You can call Cara's Innovations to get a pretend-wife who will cook, clean, and what-not. I don't know how Cara's job description differs from that of a servant. Maybe "hired wife" is Ms Ray's attempt to give servants and maids everywhere a more respectable PC term than "domestic help". Cara insists that she doesn't cross the line in the sense that she doesn't do everything a wife does, if you know what I mean. Again, won't it be easier to just call her company "Cara's Domestic Help"? That will save the Charlie Sheens of the world a great deal of trouble should they mistake the "hired wives" for the latest batch of stripper nannies from the friendly neighborhood madame.

Trying to nitpick further on this utterly illogical story filled with absurd "I love him but here are some contrived reasons as to why I can't have him" moments will be like me trying to count the grains of sand on the beach so I'll just say this. Ms Ray, it is now year 2005. Please get out of that 1980s Mills & Boons mindset and embrace the present and future. In other words, stop with the ridiculously antiquated plots because I think a "contemporary romance" has become more sophisticated than a slapped-together fake-wife story.

An uneven anthology, the stories on Big Girls Don't Cry all have fundamental flaws either in character motivations, pacing, or the whole freaking premise that prevent them from becoming a fully fleshed-out story in their own right. Big Girls Don't Cry, yes, but they can do better, surely.

Rating: 76


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