Night Winds
by Gwyneth Atlee, historical (2000)
Zebra, $5.99, 0-8217-6642-2


From fires to now hurricanes. This author sure loves to use disasters as her backdrop. But like the last fire book, this hurricane book has a disaster that far overshadows the romance. The 1875 Texas Gulf hurricane literally tears the romance to shreds, leaving behind a heart-wrenching aftermath that makes me forget the events leading up to it.

No, wait, I remember. It's a very silly rehash of the All-Sadism TV Network marathon that is first presented in this author's debut. Heroine Shae Rowan lives in guilt because her mother is a "loose woman" who runs off with another man. To make up for it, she becomes Daddy's doormat. Her one act of rebellion, leaving her fiancÚ in the lurch at a party, costs her her reputation, her not-too-pristine relationship with her daddy, lots of tears, and a broken ankle.

Phillip Payton, enraged at the hussy's humiliation of his best friend, chastises Shae at the beach and leaves her when she trips and gets a broken ankle. Of course, I'm told this isn't a usual reaction from him - he's a gentleman, but honey, his buddy's pride is injured, you know. And she's a hussy, right?

This reminds me of Mel Gibson's character justifying his ordering his prepubescent sons to fire at everyone in sight in that puerile move The Patriot: "It's not your fault because Daddy asked you to shoot them". Rubbishy justification, these lot.

But ah, Phil's Shae's soulmate. He too is a doormat who gives up his wishes to obey the last wish of a father he never cared for much anyway. He is ostracized because he hires Black men (here, we have lots of saintly one-dimensional token Black characters ala Hollywood) and his business is close to bankruptcy.

He soon learns that his "best buddy" has heinous plans for Shae. Shae learns that her mother may be murdered instead of having flown the coop. Along the way, both of them stumble through what seems like a baptism into the Cult of Pain and Shame: she gets almost raped, she is assaulted, browbeaten, reviled, alienated, mocked at, and used by everyone left and right; he gets used, lied to, attacked, assaulted, alienated, and mocked at.

But the saddest thing is that, instead of even pitying them, my reaction is "Well, the idiots ask for it." The villains are so transparently bad, thus it makes these two look like buffoons to trust them in the first place. Or maybe it's just misguided filial piety? That's even worse. I wonder if Shae would drink poison if Daddy tells her that it will make him happier. Worrying thing is, I think she may just do it.

And of course, everyone is Bad and Evil, all out to Use our stupid, spineless, clueless main characters, apart from the Black people and the odd kind old coot or two.

I cheer when the storm strikes and sweeps all this unnecessary pain and misery into the Texan gulf, then sigh at the heartwrenching descriptions of the aftermath. Alas, too late, too late to redeem this book.

Like many disaster stories, Night Winds comes to life only when it starts killing people and destroying houses. And when it tries to be a melodrama of spineless people stumbling into a happily-ever-after, it loses the plot even further.

Rating: 42


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