Family Ties
by Jacquelin Thomas, contemporary (2000)
Arabesque, $5.99, ISBN 1-58314-114-6


Family Ties has a great, intriguing plot full of possibilities, but egad, it is severely weakened no thanks to linear, simplistic psychology of its characters. Also, the book seems too afraid to admit that the hero is a jerk - he is - and neatly shifts reality so that instead of a making him give a good grovel, the hero's behavior is justified as okay in ways that seemed more insulting to my intelligence than credible. Why create a jerk, make him act like a jerk, then to make a complete turnaround halfway through and ask me to believe that he isn't a jerk? He is, and no amount of bedroom expertise can hide the fact that Marc Chandler is a jerk. A misogynist jerk.

Kyla Reynolds was only fifteen when she discovers her mother dead of a drug overdose. She changes her name to McKenzie Ashford. She's also some sort of genius, and today she is a forefront researcher in AIDS. But she also nurses a vandetta against the man who killed her mother, and she is pretty sure the man is Marc Chandler. Marc, who runs a pharmaceutical company, must have supplied the drugs that sent her mother to overdose, she reasons, so she will bring him down.

So what she does is to get herself hired at Marc's company. Then, that man will writhe in excruciating pain as McKenzie/Kyla plots her revenge.

You know, I am wondering when the book would laughingly do a nudge-wink at me - "Like Mom, like daughter, heh heh" - for our heroine can't help but to fall for the man she believes has slept with and destroyed her mother. The work ethics are completely demolished when it comes to her and her boss doing the horizontal tango, but the book never seems to know that it is skirting close to campy plot territory here. It is so serious - "See, our two people are finding a cure for AIDS, and they are Perfect, Beautiful People, so RESPECT, sister!" - when it should be knowing and witty.

Especially when its main characters are definitely in the Campy Loony territory. Marc has such a bad history with women it is laughable. He hates his mother, he hates all his ex-girlfriends (who scheme to snare him with fake paternity alarms, cheats on him, shows him the finger, and abuse chemical substances), and he doesn't trust any living woman. They are good for Only One Thing as far as he is concerned.

And she? Well, she can hold her own in Dysfunction Country. Distrustful, has no life except for nurturing vengeance, alternately cold and warm, bad experiences with men (thank you Mom), and as her attraction to him grows, her IQ starts rotting. By close to the end, she doesn't seem to remember her revenge plans, heck, she doesn't even seem to know whether to be the Oriental rug or the Russian fur rug at Marc's villa.

Even the romance is dysfunctional, with consummation taking place after she is drunk, and Marc acting like a Neanderthal misogynist closet sociopath with his rabid denouncements of womenkind. And our heroine just can't stand up to him at all, much less take him to task for his silly beliefs. In the end, I can't help thinking she only reaffirms his misogynistic principles.

Family Ties is campy. To enjoy it, I can read it as a campy dusfunctionarama. Alas, too bad the story takes itself so seriously, not seeming to know that simplistic, linear "Blame it on Momma" pop-psychology and over-the-top dysfunction do not a Serious and Poignant Romance make.

Rating: 57


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