by Nicole Knight, contemporary (2006)
Leisure, $6.99, ISBN 0-8439-5660-7
Nicole Knight's Stronger Than Yesterday has a story that requires a more capable author to make it work. It needs an author who isn't afraid of making her main characters admit to having flaws of their own as well as an author who can create realistic and human characters. Unfortunately, the author hasn't attained that level yet where her capabilities are concerned.
Faith Parker-Wynn and her husband Gerard can still be considered newlyweds as they have barely settled down from their honeymoon and they are expecting their first child. However, Gerard's ex-wife Iris then shows up with a bombshell: she and Gerard had a child from their Angry Ex Sex thing and she now wants to drop their eight-year old on him so that she can go off and do her thing. Gerard is happy to take the boy in, but Faith however becomes so jealous that the honeymoon, needless to say, is over.
To call Faith a monumentally selfish idiot is probably too easy, if not unreasonable. However, Faith has issues that stem back from her father remarrying another woman and therefore causing her to feel all kinds of jealousy for her father finding happiness with someone else that isn't her or her late mother. This woman clearly needs therapy since she has abandonment issues as well as daddy issues.
Faith grew angrier with Gerard defending Iris. She glowered at him and said, "Face it, Iris doesn't love anyone but herself. I feel sorry for Elijah, but don't expect me to fall in love with him." As soon as the words left her mouth, Faith realized that they weren't alone.
The above quote is from the late half of the story, mind you, so Faith continues to insist that Gerard ditch the kid elsewhere persists for that long.
Here is where Ms Knight loses the plot. She is aware that Faith is being a selfish idiot. I mean, Gerard is not going back to Iris. He is just taking in the kid to give that kid a home with him and Faith. That kid was conceived in a relationship that ended before Gerard met Faith. So what is the problem here? Faith's insistence that Gerard ditch Elijah by making Iris take him back, no matter how I look at it, is wrong.
However, Ms Knight twists this situation by having Faith and various secondary characters in this story blame Iris for trying to "manipulate" her and Gerard by making him raise the kid while she's off chasing her dreams. I don't buy it. How is Iris "manipulating" Gerard? She doesn't want Gerard back. She doesn't want Elijah back. Isn't it better for Elijah to stay with a father who adores him? To me, Faith is insane if she expects Iris to drop everything and take Gerard back just because Faith thinks that a "good" woman should put her kid above everything else. Besides, she already calls Iris everything short of a prostitute, so does she expect Iris to do what she feels is the right thing? Does Faith really believe that the kid is better off being raised by a woman that she judges and deems unworthy on the whole? I tell you, Faith needs psychiatric help.
Therefore, by insisting that Faith is in the right, it does seem that Ms Knight is trying to tell me that Iris is "wrong" in the first place not to keep Elijah a secret and raise him by her own. Iris is already an unfortunate punching bag in this story as Ms Knight uses poor Iris to go on a soapbox about how wanting to be sexy and make it big in Hollywood is a terrible thing to do so I suppose another blame pinned on the poor dear isn't going to matter.
And yet, the biggest hypocrite in this story is Faith. She is an active participant in a charity geared towards helping abused women and yet here she is shrieking at her husband and blaming a kid for spoiling her selfish dreams of getting her daddy back all to herself. The end result is a really unpleasant story to sit through because the heroine is so monstrously wrong for so long that the unconvincing and rushed Hallmark ending at the end is not going to salvage her character. Faith doesn't need a happy ending, she needs therapy, plenty of it.
A better author may pull off this story, but Ms Knight's writing leaves a lot to be desired. This is mostly due to the author often confusing her role as a storyteller with that of a motivation seminar speaker. Hence there are many stilted soapbox speeches passed off as conversations such as this one:
"I'm glad you got me involved in this program," Sydney said to Faith, touching her hand. "At first I was skeptical about getting involved in the battered women's program. Not experiencing the kind of violence and disrespect these women have taken from men, I didn't think I would have anything in common with them. But I have to admit that working with them all this time has made me a better person. It takes a lot of courage for these women to begin again and to return to their families and be the strong, self-respecting women they were born to be."
Faith nodded her agreement. "You know, as women, we have a tendency to be too cool toward one another. When things aren't too busy in the mall, I observe the way women react to one another. They stare like enemies or walk past as though everyone is invisible. Unfortunately I see this in a lot of us young black sisters. We act as though a smile or simple hello would cost us a fortune."
Really, who speaks like that in real life?
And the above also illustrates how frustrating I find this story. The above exchange takes place on pages 62 and 63. And yet, the previous excerpt when Faith goes off on Gerard and blames Iris for her own feelings about Elijah takes place much later in the story, which demonstrates how oblivious the heroine is to her own hypocrisy. Sure, Iris is written to be a selfish ho who would rather have a career than to be a "real" and "true" woman who loves babies and the husband, but Faith could very well own up to some of her own sins if you ask me.
Stronger Than Yesterday makes the worst possible mistake - getting a main character to behave like a jerk and trying to pass the blame on to some secondary character instead of having this character own up to her faults. Eventually, when Faith decides to be a good mother to Elijah, she then spends more and more time denigrating Iris. It's ridiculous how poor Iris is turned into this cartoon villainess. The story is all about judging and condemning Iris. Ms Knight ends up turning Faith into a really unpleasant character who delights in judging other women as wanting while portraying herself as the righteous heroine at the same time.
Awkward prose, hateful heroine, secondary characters who are nothing more than caricatures, and a really unpleasant portrayal of women who do not conform to the author's idea of a "good woman" all combine to turn Stronger Than Yesterday into a truly painful book to read.
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