by Wendy Lindstrom, historical (2003)
St Martin's Press, $6.50, ISBN 0-312-98284-4
The Longing is a textbook example of how a book can get derailed by contrived plotting and formulaic storytelling. Wendy Lindstrom's sense of description and her ease at creating and expanding romantic scenes between her main characters make this book float when other equally wooden and contrived Americanas written by less talented authors fumble and sink.
Kyle Grayson, the jilted beau in Shades Of Honor, is a walking mess. He is arrogant and he is obtuse, forcing and blackballing his brothers into trotting in line with his ambitions. He is best friends with the villain, apparently unable to see the villain's transparent manipulations for years. This villain plants some doubts in our thick-headed dimwit's skull and this thick-headed dimwit accuses Tom Drake of Treachery and Evil. Because, you see, Tom, Kyle's business rival, refuses to share trade tips and secrets so Tom is Really Evil, instead of just being a smart businessman. Alas, Tom has an attack before Kyle and dies soon after. Oops. Now, Kyle will have to decide whether to confess to Tom's daughter, Amelia, who believes that Kyle is trying to help her father. In a way, Kyle helped Daddy straight down the grave, but Amelia isn't thinking in that context. But the mess becomes really complicated when they are compromised and Amelia, in a way, manipulates Kyle into marrying her.
While Kyle is a mess because he is so blind to the obvious that he's nothing than a plot contrivance as a result, Amelia fares even worse. She loses her virginity to the villain, see hero's best friend above, and centers her life around this event that she isn't above manipulating people into pitying and eventually marrying her. It takes two to tango - she knew Richard would be leaving that summer, but she believed that her love would change his mind. It didn't, and her hymen certainly didn't, and Amelia spends her entire life after that blaming men and pitying herself while deliberately making decisions in life that will make her even more miserable.
I won't mind stubborn heroes and selfish sniveling heroines - provided they are done right. However, Ms Lindstrom develops the plot like a graduate from the University of Bad Plotting. Tiny little untold truths and secrets are dragged on and on until the predictable denouement happens. Even then, half of these secrets and reactions don't even warrant the melodramatic reactions of Amelia. For example, Kyle proposed to his ex-mistress once? Big deal! But no, Amelia conveniently forgets that this marriage is not exactly founded on true love and all but slips into catatonia when she learns of Kyle's relationship with his ex-mistress. Amelia really fares the worst in the story - she comes off like some deluded twit who mistakes her selfishness and martyr complex as some grand virtue. Kyle is like a seeping tank of radioactive waste: he stupidly lost his brothers' investment in a truly stupid business venture and worse, high-handedly crushes his brother's dream to open a tavern by openly sabotaging his attempts. Because Kyle, who doesn't know that his openly villainous friend is a villain and who loses money at least twice in this book, knows best for brother. Kyle, unwittingly and arrogantly, ruins the happiness of the people close to him with his high handedness. And unfortunately, he often comes off as lacking in intelligence, and arrogance and stupidity are a really bad combination of traits in a hero.
Kyle is taken to task for his arrogance regarding Amelia's father, but he never convinces me that he learns anything from the experience. His treatment of his youngest brother - sheesh. Amelia is never made accountable at all despite her blaming so many people for most of her self-inflicted miseries. Instead, the author creates a denouement where the men predictably try to blame everybody else as much as possible while the women just as predictably try to shoulder as much blame as they could. Needless to say, I find very little emotional pay-off in this book.
Still, there're many readable scenes in this book. When Kyle and Amelia drop for a while their drama queen antics in the middle of the book and just be themselves, the book really shines as a romantic and tender story with occasional funny banters to liven the mood. It is the fact that there are some really good moments in this otherwise artificial and contrived book that makes The Longing more disappointing. The author should try losing the convenient "catch-all" villain, contrived communication issues, and formulaic resolutions of her story in her next book. She can write, but as of now, she could have written a little more.
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