Always In My Heart
by Catherine Anderson, contemporary (2002)
Signet, $6.99, ISBN 0-451-20666-5

The Queen of Exploitative Traumas and Muzak Hour is back. You know, my first book by her is Annie's Song, and I am creeped out by the hero lusting after a heroine he believes to have a mental capacity of a child. Then comes Forever After, and it blows me away. I love it so much, I went on a Catherine Anderson spree.

Only to realize that every book of this author features a rape victim or some handicapped heroine or something just as exploitative. The romance can be boiled down to a scene where the heroine will blink up at the hero as he reassures her that yes, Handicappia, you are beautiful, you are so beautiful, I love you darling, and have I told you how beautiful you are? Here, here's a mirror, and let us admire the sight of your muted mouth together! How lucky, lucky that you have only lost a little bit of your still beautiful and aerobicized legs, and I have nothing but ardor for your Caesarian scars - oops, I forgot that Well and Noble Women give birth the Pure Way - I have nothing but ardor for your still perfect body. Come, mon ami, let me sex your rape traumas away, my baby - muah, muah, muah. And she will go, yes baby, yes, yes, I'm so full of confidence and self esteem now, I'm alive, I'm aliiiiiive because you love me baybeeeee!

Ah, and they will both burst into song, Celine Dion's Because You Love Me maybe ("I'm everything I am! Because you luuuuuurve meeee!"), and I rip my heart out of my chest and offer them to Satan if Satan will strike these evil Carebears dead on the spot.

Of course, these beautiful and hurt porcelain princesses are always lovely, pretty, and big-breasted. No hypothyroidal dwarf women or hyperactive giantesses with Tourette's syndrome for Catherine Anderson. No obese women with hypothalamic disorders, no women with Down Syndrome finding love, no, these are all heroines hurt but remain Oh So Beautiful and Pure. If these women have theme songs, they will be sung by Barbra Streisand.

Now I can't even read Forever After without feeling a vague urge to take a long shower. It's like I'm abetting the exploitation of the weak, somehow. Oh well, the Rottweiler in Forever After is very adorable though. (Lassy, my dear departed Rottweiler, how are you doing in that big running field up there, buddy?)

Always In My Heart has Catherine Anderson doing the divorced doofuses reuniting thing. Within the confines and limitations of the formula, there is only two ways a divorce can take place in this type of story: (a) he's always too busy working on the ranch, or (b) a dead kid is involved. This book doesn't disappoint. Try (b).

Ellie and Tucker Grant are finished. Kaput. Kapish. They don't talk to each other anymore. If you have read any of the marriage-kaput stories by fellow Trauma Porn Queens like Teresa Hill and Joan Johnston, you'll be familiar with the drill. They have two kids - live ones - Zack and Cody, who live with their daddy Tucker in some idyllic wilderness. Because we all know divorced men live in ranches to nurse their wounds until their wives come back to them because they know love with their ex-husband is much better than a career and the city.

Zack and Cody decide to reunite their parents once more, probably after one too many The Parent Trap-ish movies on cable, and they run off with the Olsen twins for a wild weekend of drugs, sex, and champagne enema. Okay, these mountain redneck kids aren't that smart - they just run off into the wilderness while Mommy and Daddy, brought back together, pyschoanalyze each other and decide that in the end, all is forgiven, baby, let's live forever in this nice ranch where the sunset is forever beautiful and pure.

Along the way, I am subjected to Tucker's amazing Mountain Man, Forest Ranger skills. Ms Anderson sells as hard as she could about the Beauty of Nature, how we should all Abandon our City Roots and Reconnect With Nature. Let's all get naked and hump trees together!

In the end, does it matter? This couple has their problems smoothed and glazed over in beautiful firelight sex, her hair artfully draped over her breasts as she smiles at her husband, and he, with his Rugged Mountain Man Macho Beauty And Uncouth Artifice, respond with a manfully constipated expression passed off as masculine love.

Unlike other Trauma Porn Queens, Catherine Anderson doesn't pile up traumas upon traumas, she takes up a trauma, and then pile up saccharine and manipulative scenes upon each other until the whole thing resembles a giant confection of pure, fattening sugar.

But of course, her fans will lap it all up and eagerly clamor for more, and Catherine Anderson, always happy to oblige, will no doubt choose her next Perfect Woman Prototype from the long line of rape victims, paraplegics, miscarried women, phobic women, and other "Hurt Inside, Beauty Queen Outside" exploit-o-rama objects in her one-note repertoire.

She could have at least added a Rottweiler into this story.

Rating: 56

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