by Sandra Hill, contemporary (2005)
Warner, $6.50, ISBN 0-446-61296-0
Sandra Hill's shtick in The Red-Hot Cajun should be familiar to long-time readers of her books: the heroine and the hero meet as a result of some over-the-top machinations by the So! Wacky! old people around them, often with the heroine in some embarrassing situation. The whole story then has this tired and increasingly annoying running joke about how the heroine needs to get laid and the hero is the one to stuff it to her.
This time around, René LeDeux is the hero. Although it really doesn't matter what his name is because he is the same kind of hero as his brothers: oversexed, having some minimal baggages for the sake of conflict, and always have a new technique to make the heroine blush from embarrassment and lust at the same time. The heroine Valerie "Ice" Breaux is another frigid heroine whose attraction to the hero seems to be solely because she hasn't gotten laid in a long time (here it is two years) and the hero and his grandmother fluster and pester her until she finally caves in from exhaustion and decides that she's in love with the hero. They meet when some of the self-proclaimed tree-huggers of the bayou think that it is a great idea to get some publicity for their campaign by "getting" a lawyer from Trial TV. Their plan involving Valerie doesn't extend to beyond grabbing her at the airport, tying her up, and bringing her to the bayou so I really don't know how to pretend that this plot is even a little sensible. Tante Lulu, the annoying matchmaking grandmother, then conspires to keep Valerie and René in René's cabin for a while so that those two can have hot sex and sate Tante's unhealthy fetish to see her grandsons wedded and her granddaughters-in-law constantly pregnant. Don't they have websites for old ladies with this kind of fetish?
The author also introduces plenty of Save The Bayous of Louisiana soapbox rants in this book, with René conveniently being a burned-out environmental lobbyist. Ms Hill however stops shy of offending her Republican readers who may take affront at her politics and stop buying her books (thus forcing Ms Hill to stop writing and actually be a tree-hugger or something, eeuw) by saying that the US Government is merely tied up with other "top priority" issues like "poverty" and "terrorism." Picture Dubby reading this book and frowning as he looks up "poverty" in the dictionary before asking Uncle Cheney, "There are poor people in America? What do they look like?"
However, Ms Hill doesn't hesitate to make sure that Valerie is so, so wrong for not wanting to live in the stinking bayou like Good People do. Valerie wants to have a career in the city and lives in a fine apartment, but Ms Hill early in the story makes it clear that Valerie is like this because her nasty mother brainwashed her into being "that way". The implied message here seems to be that you are morally skewed in some way if you don't want to hug a tree and swim with the crocodiles in a Lousiana bayou. Of course it is convenient that Tante and René get to live in a bayou, confident that René will have his bags of money to fall back on, unlike really poor people who are living in the bayou. Kinda like how rich people berate other people for working too hard and not enjoying life, really, because duh, of course money isn't everything to these rich folks - they have so much of it!
The romance and the characterization of this book have very little differences from Ms Hill's previous books for Warner so I really don't have anything to say other than you know what to expect if you have read the previous two books in this trilogy. Everything is the same, really, except for the soapbox issues and Valerie's disdain for the bayou and all that. We all know that Valerie is supposed to be wrong and she will learn her lesson at the end so it's not as if there is anything unexpected in that area either. The only thing worth chuckling over is the fact that Ms Hill seems to believe that having an intrusive, senile old woman having a crush on Richard Simmons waving the silly, visceral, dumbed-down, and oversimplified "Hug a tree and befriend a bayou crocodile today, you townies!" soapbox is more effective than having crackpot street prophets screaming about the end of the world at the corner of the street.
The only saving grace to this story is that René and Valerie would be likable in a story that doesn't rely so much on people behaving utterly stupidly for the sake of cheap laughs.
If I am truly in the mood to be mean, I would go as far as to say that treehuggers shouldn't abet the killing of trees by buying this book. After all, there is really nothing in this book that any reader can't find in the author's last two books apart from more amped-up crazy old woman antics. Ms Hill chooses to sacrifice characterization for birdbrained stupidity just to milk some laughs. It's a formula that seems to be working very well for her, sales-wise, but when potentially interesting characters like René and Valerie get squashed as roadkills by Ms Hill's funny-dumb-ha-ha steamroller, that feels as wasteful as the trees that were cut down so that Ms Hill can sell her tired, unvarying shtick and some ineptly simplistic soapbox about saving the trees. The least she can do is to show some ironic self-awareness of the absurdity of what she is doing, really!
Is this the part where I mention that I am convinced that the guy on the front cover about to bite a chili is a clone of everyone's beloved President Dubby himself?
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