by Suzanne Macpherson, contemporary (2005)
Avon, $5.99, ISBN 0-06-051769-7
Heh. Just think, if this book is a Mafia crime story, it can be called She Woke Up Headless. If this is a psychosexual chiller, how about She Woke Up Male?
Anyway, the problems with Suzanne Macpherson's She Woke Up Married are twofold: one, the author either deliberately or accidentally overlooks convenient legal solutions to her characters' issues and comes up with increasingly tedious jump-through-hoops twists to keep her story going (this book is, therefore, implausible and requires plenty of suspension of disbelief); two, the hero Tucker Pruitt is a confusing placeholder for the reader in the author's soapbox about postpartum depression as epitomized by the heroine Paris James (the story, therefore, starts coming off like a well-intentioned PSA about the condition).
Thirty-year old Paris James goes off to Vegas to celebrate her thirtieth birthday, her career decline, and her loveless state. That's all she claims to remember. She doesn't know about or want that handsome Elvis impersonator Tucker Pruitt who claims to be her husband since the night before. He remembers how she tells him this sob story about her wanting a husband and children and tells her how she begs him not to use a condom so that he can make her life complete in all those holes in her heart marked "I want childen", "I hate career", and "Please don't kill me, people!" Naturally Paris does get ballooned up with the magic baby of hope that will deliver her from her meaningless existence as a career woman to a more meaningful life of having babies and slaving in the kitchen for the mighty husband.
Despite Ms Macpherson trying too hard to pretend that this story is all about "Onwards, Womyn!" by having Paris set up a toddler school with a name that includes "Girl Power", I believe that some readers may not be amused by how this story ends up driving home the message that Paris' refusal to marry and embrace housewifery is related to her postpartum depression. But this book won't be the first, nor will it be the last, romance novel to suggest that women with career that remain single until the big 3-0 are somehow mentally wacko in some way.
But its faux-feminist overtones aren't the biggest sin committed by the author in this story.
Let's start with Tucker, one of the most confusing mess of a character I've ever encountered. He's a Reverend but not once does the word "Jesus" or a convincing prayer escape his lips. He doesn't believe in premarital sex but he has never married yet isn't a virgin. Most bewilderingly, he uses the words Paris said to him when she was drunk to chain her to this farce of a marriage, insisting that he's the man to change her life for the better. Dude, she's drunk. But he doesn't get it. Who is Tucker? He is not credible as a religious character, he comes off as tacky with his owning a Elvis-themed Vegas chapel but at the same time he talks about how marriages are meant to be good plot contrivances, oops, I mean, inviolable sanctities. He quotes romantic poetry and sings them in style but instead of courting Paris into saying yes, she'd marry him for real, he stalks her, orders her around, shows up when he's not wanted, pesters her, gets her friends to band together to force her to mash lips with him - in short, he comes off like a complete nuisance with a little bit whacked in the head. I mean, dude, she was drunk. He keeps saying that he knows the real Paris from their brief teenaged-year acquaintance and how he meeting her in Vegas is "destiny" (what, not "God's will"?) - dude, she was drunk. Tucker, get psychiatric help. Or failing that, get exorcism.
Much has been said by other reviewers and other readers about Paris being a bitch but I actually symphatize with Paris in this instance because at least the author is upfront about Paris needing psychiatric help. It is the people around Paris that keep indulging her. When Paris gets her much-needed reality check smackdown, it should have been delivered earlier, I agree, but I find it hard to blame Paris for that. Very few people with these kinds of mental baggages in real life are aware of how bad they are being, so to me, Paris' behavior rings real, if unappealing and unadorable.
But I can blame the author for not coming up with credible ways to make Paris sympathetic or the plot believable. For example, Paris wants an annulment badly but she leaves Vegas expecting Tucker to take care of everything. When Tucker shows up and makes a pest of himself, Paris doesn't do anything other than to mope and whine, when I'm sure a quick trip to the courtroom will get the farcicial marriage abolished easily. I mean, come on, we're no longer in the 1800s where you are married for life because you've had sex with your Vegas stranger.
Because there is really no good reason why Paris couldn't end the marriage if she wants that to happen so badly, there is no good reason why this story should be as long as it is. Tucker may come off as patient and charming compared to Paris but he is one big contrivance, from his schizophrenic characterization to the contrived way he just cannot say the correct things to Paris until late in the story when he's already said those things to her friends. In short, too many things that happen in this story are things that really need not have happened. Once or twice these things occur, that's acceptable - characters, like people in real life, aren't expected to always do or say the right things. But when there are so many of these things just piling up non-stop, that's when the story starts to come off as one big contrivance from start to finish. And that, people, is why She Woke Up Married but I ended up annoyed. Suzanne Macpherson is a talented writer, I believe, with a buoyant sense of humor. She doesn't need to make her characters jump through stupid hoops in some misguided attempt to force a square plot through a circle.
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