Still In My Heart
by Kathryn Smith, historical (2005)
Avon, $5.99, ISBN 0-06-074074-4
Oh, Kathryn Smith. She is an author who is in tune with her characters, probably too in tune, I must say, to the point that she somewhat overlooks the forest for the trees. The characters in Still In My Heart spend the entire story examining their emotions, dissecting and studying them from every angle to the barest minutiae. That's fine if their emotional issues are rivetting but they are just not, especially because I have fundamental questions about the story that aren't answered to my satisfaction.
But first, the story. Once upon a time, Eleanor Durbane is going to marry Brahm Ryland and all is well... until she visits his room - really, please don't ask me why Miss High and Prissy here is visiting that man's room - and finds him drunkenly testing the aerodynamics of the bed with her sister Lydia underneath him... um, dramatically taking notes. Needless to say, the wedding is off. Eleanor is too proper to tell her father about Brahm's unorthodox introduction to his sister-in-law to-be, using his drunken behavior as an excuse instead. "Excuse me, but he's an alcoholic jerk!" is somehow a more acceptable thing to say than "I caught him cheating on me with my own sister - JERK!" in the mind of a Regency historical heroine who's determined to portray herself as a tragic victim, I suppose. Years later, her father uses his illness as an excuse to invite Brahm to their house party, hoping that Eleanor can make peace with Brahm before moving on with her life. I like the fact that this father isn't some matchmaking twit, just someone who has watched too much Dr Phil on TV. Brahm wants to make reparations to Eleanor and Eleanor is determined to... um, I don't know what Eleanor is thinking.
You see, Eleanor is an emotional mess. The author knows that, bless her, so I assume that Eleanor being an unreasonable twit is part of the masterplan on Kathryn Smith's part. However, Eleanor is so unreasonable that she truly challenges my patience, especially in how maddeningly inconsistent her own behavior is as she judges the people around her to a high standard that she herself doesn't follow. I don't know if Hypocrite is her middle name but it should be. She is determined to believe the worst of Brahm at times, then she will decide that she has judged him harshly, but a few pages later she is back to believing the worst of Brahm often without reason so on the whole, Eleanor's behavior swings back and forth like a maddening yo-yo. Then there are huge inconsistencies at times, such as how she can in one page think that yeah, Brahm's drunken behavior can be appalling since there was that time when he relieved himself at the punch bowl at a party, but one page later she will insist that there is no way that she will believe that Brahm's drinking can make him behave in ways that he will never think of doing when he's sober. She believes that Lydia is the wronged party, another ridiculous attempt by Eleanor to paint herself as some dramatic victim in a Greek tragedy thingie.
Eleanor is also pretty stupid as she will make bizarrely naive proclaimations like how she can't imagine an older woman taking a young stud as a lover or how she will always be faithful to her husband when she doesn't even know who or what kind of man her husband will be. Wait, scratch that last bit. Eleanor seems like that kind of person who would love to live a painful and miserable existence should she be married to a nasty man so that she can make the world sigh at what a tragic heroine she is to be caught in such a terrible fate not of her own making. And after judging promiscuous women and calling Brahm all kinds of names for being some reprobate, Eleanor then decides to seduce Brahm without the sanctity of marriage or even a promise of one. Is this where I stuff Eleanor into a box and Fed-Ex that box to Antarctica where she will never plague humanity in civilized world again? Eleanor acts like such a dim-witted moron who thinks she's a know-it-all and therefore acts like an insufferable dingbat in the process, and there are very few more gruesome kind of heroines than that particular kind.
But putting the death-worthy frigid, humor-free, and hypocritical dingbat heroine aside, the rest of the story are also a mess of frustrating contrivances. Brahm could have been an interesting hero as he's a genuine reformed rake, but soon it seems like he is a genuine masochist to pursue a maddening creature like Eleanor. He also has no self-esteem at all, it seems, if he insists so much on making reparations to Eleanor to the point that he just stands there and takes all the nonsense Eleanor throws at him instead of saying, "Screw it! If she insists on thinking the worst of me in the most ridiculous ways, I'll say good riddance and be glad that I am not married to her!" Also, he can be most stupid at times, such as when he seems shocked that Eleanor was hurt when she caught him shagging her sister because she had some feelings for her. Is he stupid, obtuse, or just a literal man who needs to have everything spelled out to him? If he doesn't believe that Eleanor loved him when he wanted to marry her years ago, why did he then want to marry her? Ms Smith insists that it's a love thing between those two, but I honestly don't see it because there are holes in the backstory. Such as why Eleanor seems so shocked that Brahm is a rake when she was about to marry him years ago - when he was known to society as a rake extraordinaire. Is Eleanor really that stupid or sheltered or naive? Wait, don't answer that.
But even if I overlook the inconsistent backstory, there's the story taking place in the current timeline which drives me crazy. The plot hinges on Brahm insisting on trying to get Eleanor to be nice to him again, but I find myself wondering why he wants to do that when any sane man with self-respect would have stopped the moment Eleanor starts acting batcrap crazy like calling him all kinds of names just because she feels jealous about the women he has shagged or how she lashes out at him because she is unable to control her own feelings. Seriously, there are times when Eleanor comes off as pretty deranged and emotionally unhinged in this story as she lashes out at Brahm for all kinds of smelly stuff in her life most unfairly. Even when she decides to make reparations to Brahm later in the story, she does it in a most exasperating manner that once again turns her into a drama queen extraordinaire for all the most ridiculous reasons. She's a demented drama queen trying to make herself the biggest martyr all the time and he's a masochist determined to get treated like dirt because of his self-esteem issues. I feel like I'm a shrink who doesn't get paid enough to endure these people's nonsense.
At the end of the day, I wonder what kind of people would do the kinds of nonsense Brahm and Eleanor do in this story. That would be the kind of people who take things too literally to the point that they cannot be reasonable (the other person doesn't say the three words so that person must hate me, oh, oh, oh!), for one. Or people who can't seem to make any decision that doesn't involve plenty of self-flagellation and unnecessary penance. Or people who are so self-absorbed that they spend pages after pages psychoanalyzing everything only to come to a dreadfully wrong conclusion. In short, people who I would not want to spend too much time reading about. I think Kathryn Smith got too involved in developing the emotional conflicts of her characters that she lost sight of how maddeningly inconsistent or unreasonable her characters are being. I mean, sure, one could say that Catherine and Heathcliff in Wuthering Heights are being perversely melodramatic and stupid, but those two die at the end for good reasons, although I would love to see Brahm brain himself against a tree again and again until his skull caves in while he is screaming Eleanor's name after Eleanor dies of a slow and wasting brain disease (mad cow disease will be nice, I think). I don't think we should make heroes and heroines out of joyless melodramatic self-absorbed drama queen martyrs like Brahm and Eleanor and pretend that they're sweet and romantic when what they really are are people severely in need of psychiatric treatment. It is just not done, surely!
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