by Lisa Dale, contemporary (2009)
Grand Central Publishing, $6.99, ISBN 978-0-446-40690-1
Lisa Dale's It Happened One Night features familiar characters stuck in familiar story lines, but the author almost succeeds in giving this show a fresh and unique spin.
In a neat and cozy corner of Vermont live two sisters, Karin Biel and her younger sister Lana. I think Jessica is busy trying to make it big in LA. Their father walked out on the family when they were kids, and it wasn't long before the two sisters had to take care of themselves. Today, they own the Wildflower Barn, a flower shop.
Lana dreams of leaving Vermont to see the world, but until Karin manages to have a family of her own, Lana will stay put. She once had a fling with Eli Ward when they were younger, but they decided since then that they are better off friends. At least, that's what she thinks. Eli has always carried a torch for her. Not that this compels him to tell her how he feels. He will meet, date, and sleep with other women while pining for Lana. Lana is slowly discovering that she may have feelings for Eli when she discovers that she is pregnant despite having taken precautions. The father is some guy she hooked up with for the good time - Lana isn't looking for serious relationships because she's waiting for a chance to leave town, remember - so she has no one to turn to but Eli. You can guess what happens next, I'm sure.
Karin is married to Gene. She is trying desperately to get pregnant. Like every female character in this story line, she turns into a rampaging Godzilla-style monster, hurting and driving away everyone she cares for as she becomes increasingly frantic to have a baby. Oh, adoption is out of the question. As a self-proclaimed Christian woman, Karin insists that it's either a baby she conceives with Gene or... well, there is no Plan B. It's Pregnant or Else. Because Karin becomes increasingly demented and mean as the story progresses, Lana rightfully decides to postpone telling her sister that she is pregnant.
And finally, the Biel sisters' beloved deadbeat father shows up in their lives. What is he looking for this time? Money? Or maybe, reconciliation with and even forgiveness from his daughters?
As you can imagine, It Happened One Night is not a lightweight story. This story contains lots of angst and plenty of drama.
For Eli and Lana, their story however is constantly plagued by the two characters either being passive or not telling each other the important words. As a result, they indulge in this game of pushing and pulling each other, always trying to break the bond between them even as they can't help trying to reconnect at every turn. After a while, this game becomes tedious to follow. Just say the words already, sheesh! Meanwhile, Karin is a piece of work, I have to say. For a long time, she doesn't bother to think before she speaks, therefore she lashes out blindly to the people around her and taking out her bitterness on them.
However, despite the fact that I could have cheerfully throttled all three characters at various points in this story, the story still manages to be a pretty interesting read. There are some scenes that work really well in terms of providing catharsis, which surprises me as I couldn't get into the author's debut effort at all.
What eventually makes me reach breaking point, however, is not the characters' silly games but the author's liberal pouring of saccharine goo into this story. Lana is quite gruesome, actually, because she is this starry wide-eyed loves-everyone selfless woman who actually stops what she is doing to sigh at the beauty of the rainbow. Were this a science-fiction story, Lana would discover by the last page that she's actually a clone who was just released from the Mattel factory a few days before, hence her irritating wide-eyed reaction to everything around her. The epilogue is cringe-inducing enough with its over-the-top sentimentalism, but the author has to add cherry to the icing by having Lana name her baby Winter Miracle Biel. Winter Miracle Biel. There is nothing that suggests a touch of Southern class like such a name for a child, I tell you.
Despite the abundance of angst in this story, Ms Dale still manages to make me wonder whether I should get an insulin jab at the end of the day just to be on the safe side. Winter Miracle Biel, good grief. The poor girl is going to hate her mother when she grows up.
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