Pocket, $6.99, ISBN 0-7434-4271-7
Mixed Genre, 2001
Isn’t this exciting? Two lead authors of two of the most ridiculed publishing houses around finally join forces to serve an anthology, A Very Gothic Christmas, for the publishing house responsible for first taking the initiative to jack up book prices.
Oh, and Carpathian fans, quiet down. Christine Feehan’s novella After the Music is a contemporary story with no paranormal element. No mind rape, no brutal oafish dude, no dumb Barbie heroines – no, hold the Barbie heroine thing. No vampires, but the Barbie heroine remains intact.
It’s the story of Jessica Fitzpatrick, who has been in love with gifted music composer Dillon Wentworth since she was eighteen. He was married, alas, but no matter. She took care of the kids, she pined for him, and her days and nights and thoughts were all about Dillon. Hey, who said “No life”? It is not nice to insult the mentally challenged that way, people.
Anyway, there was a great fire a while back, and Dillon’s wife croaked. Flames licked Dillon’s juicy, muscular body in a barbecue porn session, but since this is a romance novella with all the trappings of mediocrity, the fire thoughtfully stayed away from the face and contained the damage mostly to the hands. Burned hands – symbol of male virility! Next to the broken nose thing!
This Christmas, our heroine, who has been taking care of Dillon’s two teary-eyed monster kids – I call them monsters because they scream and wail like bratty kids while talking “deep emotional” stuff like stunted dwarfs reading from teleprompters scripted by verbose, overenthusiastic grade school playwright-wannabes – all this time while our manly hero retreat and make sad faces in his big house. Jess braves flood and thunderstorms in the first chapter (hey, this is a Gothic after all) and everybody screams all the time until I scream too and wish that the pain would stop.
Then it’s The Sound of Gothic Music time as our heroine try to teach our hero the true meaning of Christmas. I must say that despite the heroine being a complete no-life, unreal, and sad example of bad, cardboard characterization, the hero Dillon isn’t that bad. Or maybe because while he is typically arrogant and whiny all at once (no small feat), he doesn’t do the mind rape thing. The heroine still is in control of her own faculties – or what little of it that she has the first place – by the end of the story.
Trouble starts when accidents start happening to Jess. What is going on?
Part of my problem with this author’s writing is that she has no sense of humor in her stories. The humor are often unintentional – see heroine’s sad no-life thing – and more often than not, the author is writing lurid, ridiculous scenes with all the gravity of an AIDS researcher proofreading the report detailing the newest treatment for the disease. Some authors write campy but with a knowing wink towards the readers. Ms Feehan never gets the idea, alas.
Melanie George’s heroine has no life too. In Lady of the Locket, Rachel Hudson visits Glengarren, a Scottish castle, where she sees the portrait of long-dead Duncan MacGregor and wham! She loses it. She starts dreaming of being his wife and other nonsense. Supposedly inspired by her favorite Daphne du Maurier book Rebecca, Rachel uses this excuse to act like a completely sad neurotic.
A storm strikes, and wham! Thunder and lightning brings Duncan into her time! Oh, Rachel immediately explodes in a horrendously messy climax that has me diving behind the couch in terror. Duncan growls, moans, and gets all surly as he accuses Rachel of being a witch that drags him here, and Rachel, ah, well, she behaves just like the brain-free vacuum skull I believe she is: oh, she will let him do anything! She will believe everything he says! She will go where he goes! She will be his complete shadow, poison ivy, and blow-up doll. Duncan says jump, she asks how high. Duncan says open wide, she opens from China to Hawaii with a detour around Russia.
For obligatory rescue-the-doll fun, Duncan’s enemy has traveled to the present with Duncan too! Ooh.
Lady of the Locket doesn’t boast the 17-year old dumb miss babysat by much older man thing, but the heroine’s no-life, no-personality thing doesn’t improve matters. As fake as its sister novella, this one entertains as a mediocre, campy story, nothing more.
But more importantly, this anthology serves a higher purpose. The heroines here have no lives, a telling reminder to all of us lovelorn and whimsical readers that no matter how much we escape into our fantasies, we also need to go out, get some sun, get laid, and have fun. We need friends and family, and we need to make long phone calls to friends overseas just to yak and catch up. In short, we all need to put down this book and go out for some sunshine.