Return To Crystal Creek
by Vicki Lewis Thompson, Cathy Gillen Thacker, and Bethany Campbell; contemporary (2002)
MIRA, $6.50, ISBN 0-373-83510-8

In her foreword, Vicki Lewis Thompson bubbily announces that Crystal Creek is conceived when the authors and editors gathered in Texas Hill Country and "let their imaginations run wild". If this is what it takes to come up with a Jilted City Gal Does Stupid In Smalltown story, a City Boy Returns Home to Smalltown To Screw The Gal That Got Away tale, and a Ex-Lovers Reunite to Argue and Bicker Over A Ranch yarn, either someone here should have applied her master BS skills to her story or the folks at MIRA have found a creative way to fill in their "duty expenses" sheet.

Frankly, Return To Crystal Creek is as fun as stepping onto dog doo-doo, because the three novellas here have plots that are as whacked as a broken pinata after a kiddie birthday bash.

Let's start with Bethany Campbell's story, I'll Take Texas. This one revolves around Nick Belyle, Prodigal Son and Soon to be Screwer of Shelby Sprague, The One That Got Away, coming home to buy up land in Crystal Creek. Shelby is sent by her boss to do a Mata Hari on Nick - the reputation of the spinster you and the whole town claim to cherish is nothing compared to finding out newcomers' intentions - and she is not happy. Because he was the town white trash and she the bookish princess.

And thus they embark on their long rekindled love. A love that was thwarted when she was 12 and he 17 because her father warned him away. You read that right: she was 12 when he last saw her. Maybe in smalltowns they tend to marry young, but this is ridiculous. Thus scenes of Nick recalling how as a 17-year old boy he will stalk after sweet 12-year old Shelby in the library and how he knows everything about her - eeeuw. Triple eeeuw. When a 17-year old is drooling over a flat-chested 12-year old instead of the 18-year old big-breasted cheerleaders, something is really, really wrong here.

In the end, Texas gets an extra nature reserve, and Nick gets to consummate his pedophilic love story with his girlie.

Ms Campbell, oh Ms Campbell. I don't know what to say, but you owe me a bottle of battle bath.

Then comes Cathy Gillen Thacker's Made For Lovin' You. Recently jilted heroine Claire Page charges into Crystal Creek to get some daddy figure to replace her lost one, and stumbles, breaks, crashes, ooofs, and protests her way into love with vet Dusty Turner. Claire's the kind of girl who will scream "I can take care of myself" right before she plunges into the ditch - as this story aptly demonstrates again and again. If Ms Thacker personally comes over and brains me with a baseball bat, she couldn't have done a better job.

Oh, and Claire becomes independent in the end, after the entire town has rallied to coddle her and make sure she and her evil dog don't stop in the middle of the road to stare at the incoming bus. Maybe in smalltown, inbreeding is rampant and it's good that we bring in brood mares from the city with new genes and all, but Claire? That's like inbreeding the local village idiot with a drooling senile bullmastiff and hoping for an eugenic miracle. Next, please.

Finally, the most decent of the bunch, Vicki Lewis Thompson's She Used To Be Mine. Smalltown readers will appreciate this one better than me, because from my way of thinking, the main characters Kendra Lynn Burton and Teague Sloan Jr come off as complete morons. She is angry with Teague because when the ranch where they both worked for was swallowed up by the economic downturn, Teague dares to work for the Big Guys who caused all the mess. Yes, Kendra, whine about how it is better to be hungry and starving rather than to work for the enemies to feed yourself. Then Teague comes back, and wants a second chance with her, but she doesn't let him. He's a city guy now, and he will move away from Crystal Creek, while she wants to live here and die here, forever and ever amen.

That's basically the plot, and I, for one, finds the whole nonsense unnecessary and tedious. Teague should just ditch that whiny, high-maintenance dingbat and go find some slutty, fun city gal to live happily ever after with. Then again, the whole "small town is better than the rest of the world" hook that is being sold here never appeals to me anyway, so maybe it's just a case of me and Ms Thompson on two different frequencies here.

In fact, after reading this screwed anthology, I suddenly feel danged good living in this polluted, expensive, fast-paced city. Sure, life can be better, but I don't have to deal with rampant stupidity and overzealous, bigoted folks passed off as "simple good people" the way these Harlequin people are telling me. In fact, I'd more than happy to see bulldozers mow down the whole Crystal Creek. Let's build a red light district over that place, and I'm sure the world will be happier, better place for it.

Rating: 30

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