Living Large
by Rochelle Alers, Donna Hill, Brenda Jackson, and Francis Ray; contemporary (2003)
Signet, $6.99, ISBN 0-451-20765-3

What a daring novel! The stories here have size twenty-five chubby men winning the hearts of svelte supermodel-type women! Okay, actually it's the reverse: big-boned women winning the love of stereotypically handsome and muscular men. This isn't a case of Rubenesque strikes back or a positive affirmative statement - not when it enforces a negative stereotype on the poor guys while at the same demanding that these guys love us chubby women, like it or not. Factor in the fact that all the stories here are on the dull side and Living Large is just a bloated gas bag of chloroform waiting to happen.

Rochelle Alers' Reunion has big beautiful Elaine Jackson Stewart - divorced, fabulously gorgeous - going to a high school reunion and falling for the class geek turned hunk dude, Rueben. Cardboard bad ex, cardboard new guy, cardboard friends, cardboard heroine - this is the story of stock one-dimensional stereotypes wailing about their love lives. Reading about a clueless forty-two year old woman taking her sweet time to get over her blues is not exactly my cup of tea. Let's just move on to something more interesting.

Donna Hill's Surprise! has our heroine Elizabeth Howell coming home from a fat farm, oops, I mean a health spa only to discover that she has no idea how to tell her husband that she's pregnant. (Before you ask, yes, the kid is his.) The thing is, she's fifty two years old. She just cannot tell hubby, hubby finds out and loses his nerves for a short while before rebounding back, and all ends well. Yes, the baby is fine. This one is quite a much ado about nothing tale, especially because the characters are so rich, so well adjusted, there's no doubt in my mind that these people will be okay in the end.

There has to be something more interesting in this anthology, surely?

Brenda Jackson's Bare Essentials is a more lively read. The hero Jordan Pescott has a thing for big, beautiful types and he falls hard for Dominique Kincaid. Thing is, she's the judge and he's the lawyer. Then again, has professionalism ever stopped lawyers from anything? Let the briefs fall off! A silly misunderstanding provides some mild drama towards the end. This novella has some lively drama, sex, and dialogues to inject up some life into the story, which is more than I can say of the previous two "Look! My thighs are perfect! My boyfriend is perfect! I have money, lots of money! I AM PERFECT!" snooze fest.

Francis Ray concludes the story with a painfully predictable tale of the Mistrustful Fatty and the Handsome Patient Stud who loves her. Monica Jones finally catches her ex cheating on her, ditches him, and Garrett McKnight has to prove that he is the perfect rebound toy. You can probably guess where and how the story will progress from here. It's not that hard.

The men in this story are lifeless stereotypes and apart from their weight, the heroines aren't exactly any different from their Callista counterparts. While none of these heroines fall into the insecure-me trap too much, they display very little wit, humor, or even appetite for food and other things that make life worth living to stand out. In the end, I can't help feeling that this lifeless anthology is specifically marketed to readers who are so hungry for romance novels starring large women that they will lap this book up no matter what. Personally, I think we should all ask for something more than this "same old stories, just add lard" showcase of mundanity.

Rating: 50

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