Once In A Blue Moon
by Celia Stuart, contemporary (2005)
Liquid Silver Books, $6.20, ISBN 1-59578-179-X
Bettina Blanchard or Bad Betti as she's known to the seven thousand (more or less) folks in Bluebonnet, Texas, has a rule about not sleeping with a local guy. She has, after all, a reputation of being the daughter of the town drunk that she still can't shake off after all these years. Betti is the girl who had to wear a bra at fifth grade and had all the men making passes at her by the time she had those 36D's. I'm sure you'll be surprised to know that Betti is a hairdresser. After all, when you're going to live up to the tart-with-heart-of-gold Honky-Tonky Dolly stereotype, it's best to go all the way. Betti's troubles in Once In A Blue Moon start when she sleeps with Ty Bourdeaux, the golden son of Bluebonnet who also happens to have slept with only one woman in his life before he meets Betti - that woman he was married to whose name does not happen to be Betti. Between run-ins with Ty's unpleasant ex-wife and his family members, Betti doesn't need the added problem of being pregnant with Ty's kid but... oops.
Now, maybe it's just my bias showing but I don't like heroes who are supposed to be grown-up but at the same time are clueless and even spineless when it comes to making any decisions for himself that may go against his parents' wishes. In this case, Ty merely stands aside and watch as his unpleasant and cartoonishly dysfunctional clan make Betti's life miserable. I don't think that it bodes well for the relationship when Betti has to be one always trying to steer the relationship to a happy ending. When the man turns out be helpless and weak and therefore as unpleasant as the venomous members of his family members, he's has me wondering whether he's worth the heartache and headache. He's not even sexually proficient in the bed and I don't think a woman who is as emotionally tough as Betti deserves such a wimp. Betti is a great heroine in the sense that she is strong, she doesn't have weird sexual hang-ups, and she doesn't let other people faze her. But these nasty other people just keep coming and coming in this story and after a while I feel so exhausted watching Betti trying to keep fighting for the two of them. I actually see red when some of these creep family members who have treated Betti like a pariah tell her late in the story that she should humor Ty's nonsense because he had a lousy marriage to what seems like the biggest crack ho in town.
It's not that Celia Stuart is oblivious to what a weak ass Ty is being. The late quarter of the story has Betti trying to change Ty for the better. Alas, while I'm glad that the author knows something is seriously whacked with her hero, her "women marry a man to change him for the better" philosophy that she seems to be telling me in this story feels like a wrong way to resolve the story. Betti is pregnant, after all. Why does she need to babysit a grown-ass baby when she's already carrying a baby of her own? Ms Stuart misguidedly tries to evoke my sympathy for Ty by having that man actually having nightmares from being married to the most over-the-top cartoon bitch character since Cruela de Vil, but her method is too blatant and too much of an obvious lazy plot device to avoid having the hero being accountable for his own weaknesses for me. I mean, come on, if he has suffered from his experiences in the Gulf War or something, I will be sympathetic to his PSTDs. But not if he's stupid enough to be married to Crueler de Vil for twelve years. What is he, a complete imbecile or something?
That's the biggest problem, I feel, with Once In A Blue Moon. Betti is a great heroine who is tough yet passionate but she is wasted completely in a story overly-reliant on over-the-top nasty caricatures and overwrought soap-opera dramatics. Betti is the only character that feels real in this story - and she is very real indeed - so it is most unfortunate that she is stuck in a bad soap opera that embodies every embarrassing stereotype of the dysfunctional redneck hickweed town that you can think of. Run away, Betti, keep running and never look back!
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