by Jane Goodger, historical (2000)
Signet, $5.99, ISBN 0-451-20130-2
I understand how it is like to have a crush on someone even when that someone I know is unworthy of my time. Allow me the indulgence to reminisce; when I was 17 I had a mad crush on a male friend. Richard was handsome, gorgeous, and unashamedly flirtatious. Not that I would admit to him that I had a crush on him, because I knew he wasn't worth my time. He ignored me when he didn't need help with tutorials or some silly fool to listen to him whine about his sorry life, he never listened, and he broke promises left and right. But my heart still beat a little faster when he smiled at me, and all was forgiven.
Thankfully I fell in love with someone else soon after, but still, I empathize with Anne Forster who just keep going pitter-patter over her unworthy ex-husband Henry Owen. Once upon a time, when Anne was overweight, doughy, and plain-looking, Henry wed her for mercenary reasons, divorced her, and left her absolutely ruined while he walked away scot-free.
Now she is pretty, lethally beautiful, and out for revenge. Too bad her heart goes pitter-patter still at the sight of him, that foolish dumb thing.
The Perfect Wife has all the makings of a compelling, emotionally-charged read of a wrong woman bent on making the scumbag who wronged her pay and pay and pay some more, but it commits mistakes that severely undermines its credibility.
One, it is too in awe of its own hero to actually make him pay for his mistakes. Oh, he feels guilty, he feels remorse, but he tells me that he is wrong. I don't think that's good enough, for he never tells the only person to whom his soul-baring would matter - Anne. No matter how much the hero grovels to me, if he doesn't grovel to his wife, the redemption doesn't work for me. I'm just the reader, after all, Anne's the wronged woman here.
Two, the really clumsy attempt to justify Henry's actions. It's all the House's fault, I'm told, and so Anne forgives him. It's a "Can he help it, at least he's noble in his wronging me!" cop-out scenario.
Three, the other romance, between Anne's friend and Henry's, is really too lightweight to be memorable. The characters change in a snap of the fingers - like that! - and wham, they're in love! Huh? Maybe it's supposed to be a foil to the unchanging personalities of Anne and Henry, but still, that one doesn't work either.
I commend the author for tackling the topic of redemption of the hero in a time when every other historical romance author seems content to churn out Regency mystery-lite involving bluestockings and former war hero Earls (don't forget the moonlit garden compromising thing!). But since The Perfect Wife is too afraid of having its hero openly humbled and repentant, it evens up inadvertently making the heroine pay and pay more than she should for her happy ending.
Poor Anne. I understand completely though. The heart can be one helluva bitch when it comes to stupidity, so have a glass of lager on me.
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