by Dixie Kane, contemporary (2003)
Zebra, $5.99, ISBN 0-8217-7570-7
Dixie Kane's Christmas offering, Making Merry is a Fly Swatter of Doom book - a rich heroine getting the favorite smackdown where she is humbled into embracing middle-class goodness from a judgmental hero.
Heiress Cecily Culpepper married Neville Barton three years ago, only to have the law crashing the wedding party and Neville going AWOL the day after. Cut to today and get this: Cecily is still married to Neville. That's right - our heroine refuses to file for divorce because according to her, she'd rather be known as the eccentric and spoiled heiress than a "gay divorcée" (please don't ask). It is not as if the author isn't aware of the problems that can arise from Cecily's shocking stupidity - Neville will show up later in the story to do what Liza Minelli's ex is doing to that silly woman. I don't understand what Ms Kane therefore is trying to do. Is she trying to get me to sympathize with Cecily? If so, having the heroine act like a totally clueless ninny is not the way to go.
We're talking about a woman that's almost thirty but apparently without any smarts at all. It is even more creepy when I soon learn that her father not only has tapped her phones without her knowledge, he also eavesdrops on all her conversations. Generally, there is nothing Cecily does that is not under Daddy's constant supervision. I am told that Cyrus Culpepper wants to (a) find Cecily a man that will never hurt her, which Cyrus hopes will lead to (b) get Cecily to finally divorce Neville, and (c) keep Neville out of Cecily's life. Why Daddy doesn't force his daughter to divorce that man is beyond me. The whole story, therefore, is one big illogical contrivance that is made more unforgivable because Dixie Kane definitely knows how ridiculous the whole premise is.
Which brings me to the hero. Mack Armstrong is a cop that's after Cecily's husband, and he poses undercover as a chauffeur for the Culpeppers. This man will of course judge and condemn Cecily as a spoiled nitwit even when anyone with half a brain will see that Cecily is just one very gullible Daddy's girl. (With a father like hers, I don't blame her for turning out like that, really.) Cecily finds this man that treats her rudely so irresistible, and Daddy agrees. Let's get a blue-collar guy to teach Cecily the meaning of Virtue on Christmas!
Then there's Hannah, Neville's daughter from another marriage he neglects to inform Cecily. Hannah's mom is dead, so Social Services happily uses Cecily's still-married status to Neville to foist Hannah on Cecily. Humble pie smackdown and now a nanny gig - our heroine's path to self enlightenment is now complete.
Completely true to the Fly Swatter formula (rich woman finds self by marrying into middle class and becoming an instant mother to foundling kiddies) but without a decent plot to make things palatable, Making Merry really fumbles. While the author tries to make Cecily grow up in a convincing manner, things don't actually improve much. Especially grating on the nerves is Mack. This is one guy that will keep lying to the Culpeppers and Hannah and sleep with Cecily under false pretenses while telling me that he will feel guilty later, after he ditches all of them and walk back to his purportedly glorious middle-class existence. While Cecily slowly improves towards the end of the story, Mack's self-justification about his lack of ethics and his using the vulnerable Cecily for selfish reasons increasingly irritate me.
While Cecily does grow up and hence become a more likable person, Mack becomes more and more cowardly and despicable with each improvement Cecily makes in her own life. Cecily and Mack therefore nullify each other's character development (or in Mack's case, character degeneration). Cyrus remains a creepy domineering figure, and the end of the day, I can't help feeling that Cecily has merely substituted one control freak in her life with a less controlling but still unpleasant alternative.
Making Merry has a heroine that at least evolves as the story progresses. I kind of like Cecily at the end of the day - she's a bit silly and her decision not to divorce Neville is really dumb, but at least she always means well in what she does subsequently in the story. But everything else about this book is plot contrivances piled upon plot contrivances revolving around a premise that doesn't makes sense. The result is the romance novel equivalent of the giant Christmas eggnog of doom. I can't help feeling sorry for poor Cecily in the end.
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