by Luanne Rice, contemporary (2001)
Bantam, $6.99, ISBN 0-553-58102-3
I like to think of myself as a cynical sentimental person. Which is, basically, I like it when an author gets sentimental, but I also have a low threshold for sentimental stuff. If I feel that the sentimental stuff is gratuitous and manipulative, I would toss off the Kleenex box and take out the chainsaw instead.
In Luanne Rice's Follow The Stars Home, it's like I'm riding a roller-coaster ride. There are times when I go Awww, poor baby!, and there are times when I go Ewwww, that's so corny!. My final reaction at the really godawfully sentimental final chapter seals it for me: this book is corny. Corny in a pretty good way, but I fear for my blood sugar sometimes.
It tells the stories of a few people. Dianne Robbins is the heroine, and she has a daughter named Julia. Julia has multiple handicaps and deformities that prevent her from speaking coherently or even moving normally. Dianne's husband Tim has read way too many Hemingway books and fancy himself some tragic seafaring hero - the moron has walked out on Diane and hasn't talked or even met her or his daughter in eleven years. The pathetic a-hole has a brother named Alan, Alan who is perfect and a doctor to boot, and Alan who loves Dianne all these years.
Then there's Amy, a troubled girl taken in by Dianne and soon to be Julia's best and only friend. Rounding up the gang is Lucinda, Dianne's mother and probably the only human being made of pure sugar, judging from her Care Bear speeches and Follow Your Heart! mantras.
Will Alan finally get his woman? Will Julia talk? Will Amy be happy? Will Dianne be happy? Will Godzilla emerge from the sea and chomp Tim's boat (alas, no)? Will Lucinda ever stop breathing and talking sugar?
The author shamelessly pushes the tear factor overboard when it comes to Alan, Julia, and Dianne, and Lucinda happily adds to the sugar tsunami. But I must admit the whole sappiness can be effective at times, and it is painful to read of Dianne's inability to communicate or get her daughter to emote. Even the stupid moron Tim comes off as pathetic and a wretched loon to be pitied, although I still wish Godzilla has made a cameo appearence while that a-hole is out making love to his fishing nets.
Eventually though, the whole perfection of Dianne and Alan gives the story an unreal luster. I can't get into the whole story fully, because, to be blunt, I find it disgustingly manipulative. I will be more receptive if Dianne and Alan seem human and do human things. If Dianne break down and cry or lash out at her lot, or if Alan demonstrate some impatience and tells Dianne that he won't wait forever (even if he will) so can she snap out of it, things may be seem less corny.
But Dianne remains ornamental throughout the story, a pristine symbol of perfect motherhood. Likewise, Alan is the perfect consolation prize, the man who has been waiting, and hello, he has perfect body and perfect piggy bank account too. (And they say such sappy things happen only in romance novels, hah!)
It's like reading a Care Bear story. There's no doubt in my mind that things will be okay, because everything's so perfect - it's only the circumstances that suck. Tim will come to his senses somewhat, Julia will write a sappy last chapter to cement the muzak, Amy will write a prize-winning poetry to prove how gifted she actually is (take that, Amy's unappreciative mommy!), Alan and Dianne will zoom off slow-mo into the glorious sunset in their brand-new SUV.
Nice story, very well written, and yes, it's nice knowing these people, but the corn and the sap do get to me eventually. Afterwards I need to watch a movie where people kill each other and scream bad words about their mother's sexual behavior to restore my blood sugar level to normal.
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