Harper's Moon
by Suzanne Judson, contemporary (2000)
Jove, $6.99, 0-425-17542-1


It's TV Movie of the Week again. Harper's Moon starts out a gripping tale of surviving spousal abuse but it soon degenerates into a caricature of one. In fact, if you ask me, I think the star of the story is the abusive husband - so much of this story is about him. But instead on being real, poor abusive scum Tom Mahoney ends up a cross between the Tasmanian Devil and Wild E Cayote with a dose of Jabba the Hut cacklings thrown in.

And it also plays on the easy fantasy of abused woman running off to the Mostest Perfect Town to shag the Mostest Brilliant, Mostest Handsome, and Mostest Sensitive dude. Such starry Hallmark moments may be trademarks of an escapist fantasy, but even for a romance, I find such superlative escapism tad too much cotton candy for my liking. It's like watching a bad soap opera-ish TV show starring one of the Charlie's Angels women.

Annabel "Annie" Mahoney is the wife in question. No friends, no money, no security, she flees her husband's latest lunatic fit only to have her car break down in Burnsville, North Carolina. It's a perfect little hamlet with perfect nice people and neat little houses where one can rent one or two for dirt cheap prices. When Annie's chimney is blocked, she asks Jed to help her unclog it.

Jed turns out to be the Cutest, Sexiest 40-year old hunk who not only is a white trash kid now a respectable citizen, he is also a Pulitzer Prize winner for travelogues! He is also a successful writer who prefers the Simplicity of Life in this perfect lil' hollow to the Crass Materialistic New York scene. Aw, and to think one can find such a gem in a small town like Burnsville one day after fleeing an evil hubby. If only all women are so lucky.

Of course, she's definitely not ready to trust again, understandably, and he's commitment-shy. Hubby ain't gonna give up wifey, that Terminator bad guy he is, he'll be back! Annie and Jed better watch their back.

But while these two sensitive, perfect people slowly bloom into lovers and their clothes fall off their perfect bodies in perfect synchrony, Annie also spends her time weaving beautiful quilts that sell for a bomb.

Also sharing the limelight is Tom, maybe to break the monotony of idyllic perfection, whose increasing lunatic fits become more unrealistic, more outrageous, and more exaggerated as the pages turn. Annie must be really drunk to have married this man.

But the biggest flaw of Harper's Moon is that it is nothing more than one of those "mollycoddle" stories. The heroine just stumbles into good luck, and finds a happy ending via serendipity and of nothing of her doing. Throughout the story, she just stands there, a forlorn figure, and people around her just pamper and coddle her until the happy ending.

All this makes a perfect fantasy, of course, and I'm sure this story will a balm to women who have shared the same experiences as Annie in surviving spousal abuse. But me, I sure wish there's more substance to this tale than fluffy cavity-inducing perfect people living perfect lives in perfect towns.

Lovely cover though - makes me want to go live in that town myself.

Rating: 62


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