Fallen From Grace
by Laura Leone, contemporary (2004)
Five Star, $13.95, ISBN 1410401812
Maybe it's just all the hype since the release of this book that causes me to have unrealistically high expectations of this book. Or maybe I'm just a cynical old bat. Whatever the reasons, I fail to find this book as daring and realistic as many readers do. Instead, I find this book a Lifetime movie that would happen if the Lifetime channel decides to target a demographic that is a little left of the center instead of its usual audience. This is a Gigolos, Lesbians, and other Oppressed Folks Need Love Too story, painted in a hue of Carebear pastels, generously lavished with too much overjustification and overcompensatory good behavior that I wonder why the hero Ryan Kismore isn't in the running for some Nobel Peace Prize.
Sara Diamond is an author whose career isn't going too well. Not that it's her fault, of course, she's a brilliant author, it's only the publishers and the readers that don't appreciate her. She does what every heroines in women's fiction do when faced with adversity: she'll move into an old classically-architectured house in need of repair even when her money isn't exactly overflowing from her piggy bank! Her neighbor is a hunky "model" Ryan, who for the right price, will model himself in any position that you want him to. When she starts taking care of his place while he goes away on "modelling assignments", she and he start falling in love.
That is, if "love" can be in any way translate to two people taking great pains to point out to the other person how wonderful that person is. Ryan will tell Sara that she isn't untalented, oh no, she is skilled, lovely, wonderful, lovable, hot, sexy, oi mama mia. It's just her self-esteem issues that prevent her from conquering the world. Likewise, Sara will show Ryan that he is wonderful, good-hearted, lovable, hot, sexy, understanding, kind, deserving of love, caring, smart, oh just give him some award already. These are two Perfect Characters who are just too Modest to know it. Unfortunately, I know it, and I have to endure through the tedious tongue-bathing each character gives the other to get to the happy ending. Along the meantime, other than the scumbag who doesn't want Ryan to get out of the flesh business, every secondary character comes off like some politically correct poster kid, such as Sara's family members, the United Colors of Benetton where liberal activism is concerned. This is one book where "cool" politically correct agendas like homosexuality and tolerance are tossed in just to make the plot more convenient, that is to say, there is really no reason why Sara and Ryan can't be together other than their own hang-ups that prevent their Perfect Selves from showing.
But Ryan isn't the usual male escort, he's Captain America. He saves kiddies in need. He understands Womyn's needs and sensitivities. He survives the escort industry without having needle marks making railroad tracks along his arm. He is understanding, eloquent, and sensitive. Why is he a male escort? It's sad, it involves lots of pain and torment as well as the educations from a madame (I should call her up to get some tricks that I can teach hubby, not that I'm saying that he's lacking in any way, of course), and even more angst and pain. All that's missing is a scene of Ryan (his white shirt artfully soaked so as to be see-through, of course) in the pouring rain screaming melodramatically, fist-on-ground-thumpingly, "Why, God? WHYYYYYYYYYY???"
I enjoy reading this story, although some of the dialogues come off as soapbox speeches rather than spontaneous exchanges, because Ms Leone has a clear and strong voice resonating in her prose. This book is very readable. Also, I enjoy the way Ryan and Sara react to each other, small little things such as each of them recognizing and understanding the other's quirks and habits. If these characters have more depths and flaws to make them more grounded and realistic, I would have rooted for them to go all the way to the happy ending.
But with its over-the-top picture perfect portrayal of main characters, Fallen From Grace has very little of the grittiness it needs to make the story convincing. Ryan is too perfect. In fact, this story gives me this impression that we should all send our men to that Gigolo School Ryan went to so that our men will return with a Full Understanding of Womyn that will give us all multiple orgasms forever and ever. Sara is a decent heroine if she doesn't come off so much like a Mary Sue heroine - supposedly a plain woman but is actually so perfect and lovable in every way.
This book may be daring for a romance novel, which speaks volumes about the deplorably sanitized state of the genre rather than for virtues of the book itself, but it's way too much of a safe, sanitized, and unrealistically idealized fluff for me, thanks to Ms Leone tackling the story misguidedly with thick cotton gloves decorated with pink smiling Carebear artwork. With conflicts that are easily solved by a hug and a dose of psychobabble, without decent internal conflicts that pose as actual stumbling blocks to the happily ever after, Fallen From Grace comes off as a well-written type of blah.
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