Seventh Heaven
by Catherine Anderson, contemporary (2000)
Avon, $6.99, ISBN 0-380-79938-3

The nature of the heroine's phobia is revealed in the Addendum after the review. Do not read that if you don't want to find out why the heroine is afraid

The new Catherine Anderson contemporary Seventh Heaven isn't that bad. That is, if I have a taste for (somewhat above average) soap opera material laced with a generous dose of pop psychology. A book about rich man wooing a woman with a genuine case of - uhm, I won't spoil it for readers, but the heroine just won't - cannot - commit. Anyway, a book about this sort of thing is definitely up there with All My Children and other soapy materials, especially when Marilee Nelson's phobia shares centerstage with Awww kiddie antics. There's even a dog in here, cementing the Perfect American Soap Family scenario.

I mean, it's not a bad book, but it's not deep or real in a way that I find satisfying.

Let's start with the Lovers-Reunited theme. Fabulous, best, most skilled ex-footballer Joe Lakota - remember, soap heroes can't be anything less than stellar, and of course, rich - moves back to the wholesome town of his childhood, Laurel Creek, in some perfect corners of Oregon. After all, having experienced all the drugs, alcohols, and groupies his money and fame can buy, he decides to deprive his son Zachary of the same orgiastic pleasures in the name of Wholesome Parenthood.

Did I mention his Bad Ex-Wife who wants him only for his Fame and Monies and not because he is a hunky, studly, sensitive, caring man? Maybe he married a blind woman.

Anyway, the whole soap opera set-up isn't complete without the No-life, I'm Actually Waiting For Him All Along But I Won't Admit It Because It Sounds Neurotic, no-sex, no-fun girlfriend from Joe's Past. Meet Marilee. Joe takes up the position of head coach in the local high school, teaching kids Not To Stray From The Path Of American Family Values, and proposes to Marilee.

She says no.

He asks his son to act cute to charm her. She is, but she says no.

Finally, she agrees to be his wife. But in name only.

If not for the admittedly engaging cute antics of Zachary and that dog Boo, I would have fallen asleep by page 100. Seventh Heaven boasts the sugary pampering of a man of his woman. There is no woman luckier than Marilee, I tell you - Joe will do anything his depthless bank accounts would allow him for her if only she will consent to be Carol Brady to his Daddy Brady. If I'm Marilee, I'll probably brave the lunch hour traffic just to dash to the shrink ASAP to get rid of my phobia and Painful Memories to enjoy this willing stud's, er, love (of course it's love - you think I'm the Evil Ex-Wife?). But Marilee, she's a good heroine. She spends half the time running away from Joe (while casting discreet ogling glances), and the other half being Supermommy. The sex comes later, during which our heroine demonstrates that, even in the bedroom, soap opera folks do it best.

I'm sure the whole Lakota family will go off into the sunset in their SUVs for a perfect happy-ever-after. Me, I wonder why this book doesn't come along with popcorns, bunny slippers, shopping coupons, Oprah pamphlets, and a year's subscription to Soap Opera Weekly.

Rating: 78

PS: I've received several emails criticizing me for my flippant treatment of the heroine's phobia. See, Marilee has been gang-raped and is now terrified of intimacy as well as being alone. In real life I would be very sympathetic, but this time, I'm taking it all with a large grain of salt. Why?

Here's why: this is the - fourth? fifth? - book in a row by this author to feature a heroine being abused in the past. Frankly, now the whole thing smells of exploitation. Also, the heroine takes ages to get therapy, hence the whole "Rescue me, hero" scenario feels forced and contrived.

Will I be sympathetic if this whole trauma is presented in a different way? Yes, if the author hasn't chosen to popcornize the whole psychology issue instead of delving deeper into the trauma (the heroine turns into a sex goddess overnight after the first boinking, for example), I will be more receptive to it.

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