by Simona Taylor, contemporary (2003)
Arabesque, $5.99, ISBN 1-58314-387-4
Simona Taylor, who also writes mainstream fiction as Roslyn Carrington, has something really good going in Love Me All The Way. Unfortunately, the author fails to capitalize on her potentially interesting characters, using instead formulaic suspense elements to prevent her story from being anything but ordinary.
Dr Sarita Rowley is traveling under another name to meet her estranged husband Dr Matthias Rowley in Tobago. Matthias is studying and heading the conservation projects on the reef of this small West Indian island. He and Sarita married after a whirlwind courtship, but problem starts when he demands that they not have children and she secretly flushes down the birth control pills he makes her take. One day he catches her at it, and the marriage is flushed down the toilet along with the pills. Sarita comes here to work at the reef conservation project (don't ask), but she also wants some answers from her husband while she's at it.
For the first 150 pages, Love Me All The Way comes close to being an irritating wallbanger. Matthias isn't just alpha, he controls his wife the way a mad scientist controls his Frankenstein monster. We're talking about a man who watches every thing the wife does and assumes that the wife has no life outside catering to his needs. The idea that he carefully makes sure that the wife takes the birth control pills make me feel quite uneasy. Not that Sarita is any prize: instead of talking to the husband, she internalizes everything, from subversively sabotaging his enforced contraceptive program on her to working her fingers to the bone on Tobago until she almost faints in hunger. The author has these two arguing and playing silly games with each other, and when the predictable Other Ho arrives in the story, I am really close to giving up on this book.
Then something amazing happens. Around page 170, the author has her characters finally talking. This is where Love Me All The Way begins to show great promise as it carefully weaves in religious conflicts, pride, ego, and hurt into the conflict between Sarita and Matthias. Instead of being a mere alpha male, Matthias becomes a beautifully complicated hero. Sarita transforms from a passive-aggressive neurotic into something more, a woman of faith whose beliefs are part of who she is. Because the author manages to skilfully imbue her characters with realistic and complex emotions and compulsions, her characters take on depths that make them endearing as characters, even if I don't agree with most of their actions.
And just when her characters are growing wings, the author jettisons everything for a very pedestrian and formulaic out-of-the-blue suspense conflict. Bye bye character drama, hello mundanity. How heartbreaking then to keep turning the pages to the end, only to realize that Sarita and Matthias never actually manage to rediscover those marvelous depths and complexity that they display in those five or so pages.
Love Me All The Way could have been beautiful drama. The author, however, prefers to focus on silly formulaic plot elements like evil other women, slam-bang typical external suspense conflicts, and alpha male entitlements. Since she hints that she can easily create beautiful and elegant drama using difficult themes like faith, I can't help but to feel deprived of something really good from this author.
Oh, and I should point out that while the author has a nice sense of description, she also sometimes write some unintentionally funny stuff. My favorite is when the author is describing the ballast balloons on Sarita's chest:
She sighed audibly as the water came up over her hips, and kept on rising until it reached her nipples, which stiffened immediately against the fabric of her swimsuit. As the water pushed up against them, her generous breasts swelled and floated gently to the surface.
I don't know about anybody else, but I don't think it's fun to have detachable breasts that can swell to humongous proportions in water. It may be useful for non-swimmers, I guess, but nah, I'll pass.
This book at Amazon.com
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