by Geralyn Dawson, contemporary (2004)
Pocket, $6.99, ISBN 0-7434-8782-6
I shudder to imagine just how many bad country songs or what kind of country songs one has to listen to in order to come up with the inspiration for a title like My Long Tall Texas Heartthrob. But this utterly, cringe-inducingly corny title is appropriate for this story. This is a story of a smalltown romance filled with mawkish sentimentalism, too-convenient closures, and a happy ending where everything is solved by a big hug and a permanent move to a smalltown where apparently two-thirds of the population consist of old women with dotty and sage (in smalltowns these two traits need not be mutually exclusive of each other) advice to dispense for free.
Tess Anderson is a successful career woman who works as a talent agent in the land of the liberal infidels, Hollywood. Needless to say, a Moral Smackdown is in order. She rushes to Cedar Dale, Texas, when her sister Chloe is stranded there without money and with twins on the way. Chloe's boyfriend Snake disappears and evil-looking men start harassing poor Chloe when they come looking for Snake. Instead of wising up and fleeing to a place above the Mason-Dixon line, Chloe insists on staying put because she loves Snake so-oooo much. Personally, anyone who loves a guy named Snake has it coming to her - the snake caused her nothing but trouble, after all, hadn't it? - but Chloe, she's all about True Love.
Of course, instead of dragging Chloe to Oprah, Tess also stays put to help her sister. Nick Sutherland, our hero, is hiding in Cedar Dale because he can't face his past. Oops, sorry, I mean, he's in Cedar Dale because he is too good for the evil big city he managed to escape from. Doesn't that sound more "romantic"? He is one of the blandest heroes I've come across - he helps old women, he is all sweet and understanding - but as too-perfect people tend to be, he can also be quite the annoying passive-aggressive person.
Much of this story sees the author pulling at straws to force Tess to stay in town. Chloe finally does leave - but she dumps her newly-born twins with Tess before she does that. This of course forces Tess to undergo a transformation into Mama Maternal and give up all her big city career pretensions to be a Good Woman in Cedar Dale. There is a Texan hillbilly mafia gang out to get Snake as well, as if the people of Texas aren't made to look bizarre and ridiculous enough already in this kind of romance stories. Along the way, Tess is as bland as Nick, having more shoes in her closet than she has personality in her thumb. Her function in this story is to absorb the wholesome smalltown homilies and platitudes thrown her way, apparently. If she has any shrewdness that makes her a good player in Tinseltown, I see none of that here.
The secondary characters often behave inconsistently. Chloe for the most part is shrill, acts like a spoiled brat, and is supremely smackworthy, but she does a complete turnaround by the last page of this story. Sure, I'm glad she sees a shrink, but I doubt a shrink can perform such miracle in a few short weeks unless hypnotism is involved. More likely, Chloe's miraculous turnaround is motivated by the possibility of a sequel starring Miss Thang herself. Snake isn't a total bad guy, just a weak fellow, but he and Chloe often behave in outlandishly dumb ways - mostly disappearing at inconvenient moments - just to force Tess and Nick into some contrived conflict or scenario to pad this story.
That's the biggest problem I have with this story: everything about My Long Tall Texas Heartthrob feels artificial. The conflicts are set-up in contrived and often over-the-top, implausible manners just to force a romance down my throat. Maybe if Ms Dawson has a better storyline for Tess and Nick that doesn't involve stupid people that do stupid things, they may come off as more interesting characters worth rooting for. As it is, My Long Tall Texas Heartthrob feels like a book that is written because the author has to produce a book to her publisher, not because she actually has a solid, credible story to sell to her readers.
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