by Linda Francis Lee (1996)
Jove, $5.99, ISBN 0-515-11979-2
It's all Edith Wharton and her kind's fault. They made late-1800s New York an avant garde place to hang out if you're cool and tortured. Linda Francis Lee takes that much, much further - not just to another level, but to another universe altogether, cranking up the torture both external and internal with all the relish of a dominatrix wielding a whip, until either my nerves break first or the heroine's.
And since this is a 1996 book and I know she has written way before this, she has been repeating this formula for ages now, and apparently there must be a lot of fans craving such Rich People and Their Sad Lives opus. Mind you, this author doesn't stop with three or four internal conflicts. Even on - let me check - page 220 or Chapter 25, the two characters are still embroiled deep in their problems, and believe me, three quarters of the story have passed.
New York, in this author's world, isn't a fun place. Your parents cheat on each other with his or her spouse's best friend or enemy. Your father can turn on you, who has craved his love and devotion and will do anything he says, without a warning. If you're a woman, even the man you love can turn away from you, and god help you if you're pregnant with his child.
In Emerald Rain, love hurts. Love really punishes until the heroine lies methaporically battered and bleeding on the floor, literally dying as her true love turns away, too proud to admit that he cares and too hapless to do anything else. (I'm not spoiling the story - anyone reading the prologue will get all this right away.)
In case you're wondering why I'm not talking about the plot, well, the reason is simple. I really don't know how to explain why Nicholas Drake and Eliot "Ellie" Sinclair can't stay together without giving away the whole story (ie revealing the natures of their increasingly numerous problems). Both are on different sides. She is an impoverished illegitimate daughter of a convicted criminal (oh, this will be the Big Secret she will use to keep driving him away - for his own good) and he wants to buy her house, which she won't sell even if she needs money. Because dang it, it's all her father left her! (How do those memories taste, honey? Are they filling?)
As the story progresses, problems occur, among some, Ellie's Fight Against Chauvinist Artist Pigs Society (she's a brilliant artist too - surprise!), Nick's bankruptcy, their bitter fight over her house and the whole town lot, and lots, lots more.
I thought there would be some comic relief when I am introduced to the two elderly companions of Ellie. No. One was a man who could give Picasso lessons - he's old but he refuses to acknowledge that he loves the other old lady in the house, so much that the old lady finally breaks down. Even then, he is too stubborn to admit anything, until I want to scream at them both. They're close to deathbed and this old f***ing bastard still thinks he's some sort of Romeo? Aaaarrrgggghhhhhh!!!
Emerald Rain, I must admit, is a superior book compared to Ms Lee's recent releases, because for the first two-thirds of the story, she never resorts to contrived plot devices like big misunderstandings or self-pity to compound the problems Ellie and Nick are already facing. There is nothing uglier than contrived and prolonged plot devices to keep a story going, and for a while, this story manages to avoid that.
Then, in the last third, things happen. They stop listening, and everyone's a martyr, hurting the other for the sake of the true love. The men walk out, deafening their ears to the women's tears, for those ladies' own good. The women tell their men repeatedly that they don't love them, for the men's own good. Ellie crawls into her hole to bear Nick's child alone and without telling him, and to die.
My tolerance for this story has snapped long ago, around page 124 when Nick's parents - well, let's just say that's a very ugly scene. By the last page I am staring at the page numbly, feeling completely drained. It is as if I have gone fifty rounds in a boxing ring with Oscar de La Hoya (and me not even getting to cop a feel), utterly drained of all emotion except for some mild horror that she actually forgave him that easily, without a squeak. In fact, I stopped feeling anything long after page 125, just turning the pages with my eyes wide. It's like watching an accident happening before my eyes. Can these two's lives get any worse? (Oh yes, it does.)
The last chapter is a very poetic piece of an epilogue, and Ms Lee sure can make her prose sing. But I don't know. If anything, I wouldn't even want to wish this sort of love upon my worst enemy. Emerald Rain takes one's fascination with the suffering female martyr icon and bloats it with so much pain and grief and wasted tears that it will really take a strong, strong reader (or a sadistic one) to stomach it (definitely not me). This is definitely a mega-exaggerated-tearjerker-opus of suffering at its finest.
I've read a very favorable review of this book, praising it for "heroines who are flawed... yet ultimately forgiving". I think it sums up this book perfectly and its appeal to its readers. Make your own choice, or not. I'm off to watch Le Femme Nikita for rehabilitation purposes.
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