by Kathy Love, contemporary (2004)
Zebra, $5.99, ISBN 0-8217-7613-4
The title of this book has a very disturbing undertone to it. I don't know whether it is intentional or not, but because this is a story with a really pathetic heroine accepting crumbs from an equally pathetic hero, whoever comes up with the title Wanting What You Get is a genius. That title is perfect.
The overweight and dowdy Ellie Stepp, the second of the author's "Stepp Sisters" trio, has spent her entire life being the target of cruelty from the people around her that she is willing to be treated like dirt by a man she has a crush on because she doesn't think that she can get anything better. Mason Sweet is the former high school football star now turned mayor and full time alcoholic. When Ellie asks him for help to stop the city council for siphoning funds meant for the library to a new football field, he will but only if she sleeps with him. She does because to her, this is the chance of a lifetime to be close to the man she loves. For the rest of the story, Kathy Love wants me to be so sympathetic to Mason because poor Mason, he is an alcoholic! He can't help what he does! Love him, people, because Ellie certainly does because she knows and understands that Mason is a really good man. Even when he insists on treating her either as a pity shag or a shameful secret, how sweet. But hey, Ellie thinks he is too good for her anyway so what the heck, dance on her back, Mason!
You know what the sad thing is? Ellie doesn't even know that Mason is an alcoholic until too late into the story. And even then, when she finally dumps him, it's because he drinks and not because for so long he takes her for granted, sleeps with her on his own terms, and generally treats her like an inanimate sex object.
Ms Love's biggest misstep in this story is that she tries too hard to make me sympathize with Mason without making Mason actually strive to earn it. Likewise, she has Ellie being so sweet and so pathetic a doormat yet she expects me to emphatize with Ellie because she has a lousy childhood. The thing is, shouldn't people strive to move on from the past instead of making the past their favorite excuse to do stupid things? Ms Love knows how to build up the characters' sordid past to justify why these characters did the stupid things they did, but she isn't as successful when it comes to getting her characters to move on from their past. Mason does improve late in the story when he finally pulls up his socks and throw away the bottle but poor Ellie, she is still the same pathetic doormat willing to settle for crumbs because she really thinks that she is not good enough for anything better.
Wanting What You Get isn't even a decent character study of Ellie because the whole pro-Mason "Pity him! He's an alcoholic! So what if he treats people like crap? He's an alcoholic! PITY HIM! LOVE HIM!" overtones of the story is overpowering, hysterical even, as if the author doesn't trust me to form my own opinion of Mason. And of course, like most romance authors, Ms Love doesn't try too hard to expand Ellie's character. All romance heroines need to be considered a character nowadays is a limitless capacity to loathe themselves while trying so hard to make everyone in the world love them, apparently.
Goodbye Ellie and Mason. I'm sure they do have something in common. I'll have to think about what that something is, though. Maybe after he's finished with the liquor, he can shatter the bottle and pass the shards to her so that she can give herself a new tattoo on her wrist, I suppose. I must confess that I end up feeling quite bad for Mason at the end because he, at least, gets over his crap and turns over a new leaf - only to marry a walking one-woman Jerry Springer sideshow. Oh well, I guess that's what he gets and this story is all about Wanting What You Get.
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