by Judith McNaught, historical (2000, revised)
Pocket, $7.99, ISBN 0-671-77609-6
I will never make fun of Eloisa James' romance novels that are full of pointless misunderstandings again. I once thought she was just under this assumption that romance is equivalent to non-stop bickering and sex. Now I know she probably has read Judith McNaught's Whitney, My Love several bazillion times to get the nuances and tone right.
Despite the heroine Whitney "Retchworthy" Stone being as smart as a discombobulated and lobotomized maggot and despite Clayton "Duke of Foreverbore" Westmoreland's singular non-facial expression, I actually enjoyed this book for a while. That is, until Retchworthy gets pregnant and Foreverbore does this "Who's da daddy? I'm not da daddy!" garbage act. This brings out Retchworthy's even-dumber-than-I-thought act (no mean feat) and Foreverbore's psycho-dumbo behavior. I don't care much for these characters at the start, and after the pregnancy fiasco, I don't even care whether they live, die, or Retchworthy gives birth to an elephantine alien baby.
Retchworthy, since the age of sixteen, has been in love with Paul Sevarin like since forever. Our heroine acts like a tomboy, a hoyden, a misfit, but alas, she is asserting her independence just to impress a man. She is also Daddy's girl, always wondering when Daddy will love her. I don't know, maybe when she stops being such an obnoxious, thought-free irritant? After a fiasco involving a horse (eeeuw, not that sort of fiasco, perverts), she is sent to France.
France couldn't help Retchworthy grow a brain. The author really cracks me up though when she has Retchworthy scorning romance novel heroines as being too submissive and all that rot. Guess what, Ms McNaught - doing stupid things that endanger not only oneself but embarrass others as well, being unable to assert oneself, and letting a man treat one like dung - well, Retchworthy is even worse! Some submissive women use their submissiveness as a mean to gain power over men. Retchworthy is just a puke bucket.
Her innocence, wantonness, and other adjectives romance authors believe cute, dumb heroines should have soon captivated Foreverbore, a rake who, for some reason, has great success despite his complete lack of charm, charisma, or sex appeal. Still, he gives Retchworthy's daddy lots of money to marry Retchworthy. What an idiot. He asks for it, I still say.
Retchworthy, however, loves Paul! Even when she realizes that Paul is bankrupt, she declares, "But I have money!" She doesn't get it. A woman of twenty, who actually says the above, and remains completely enamored of a man whose mercenary intentions are blatant. That is, until in a fit of rage, Foreverbore rapes her. Our intelligent Retchworthy immediately falls for her rapist husband.
If someone finds me unconscious on the floor with a pool of blood seeping from my cracked skull, let it be known that Judith McNaught is to blame.
Of course, it's Foreverbore's turn now to act like the dumbass of the year. She's pregnant - she must be carrying someone else's baby. Now, Foreverbore, I know you are insecure in your manhood to sleep with and then dump so many women before they realize what a weenie you actually are, but don't you think you transferring your fears about your infertility, lack of stamina, and all to your wife a little too extremely? Retchworthy just keeps bumbling in her attempts to reaffirm Foreverbore's ridiculous suspicions that I wish these two would just kill each other and end my suffering. Although Retchworthy doing any murderous act is as plausible a concept as elephants doing ballets. Retchworthy suffers from a condition, I'm sure, where her brain would explode in a messy, gruesome, and spectacular kaboom if she does anything more taxing than breathing. Purely visceral and not at all intellectual, she is the mother of all Girly Antichrists and I now know who to blame for all those girly I-fall-in-love-even-before-I-grow-breasts-and-my-love-is-forever-true bimbo nymphs.
Still, the author's style is engaging. I have no problem laughing at Foreverbore and Retchworthy and how everyone keeps saying oh how wonderful these two morons are, et cetera. If these two are epitomes of romantic paragons, I'm going to shove a pencil up my nostril. But I must admit, it's a hoot to see Retchworthy go all stupid. When Foreverbore punishes Retchworthy in one lovely scene, I bookmark it so that I can lovingly reread it whenever Retchworthy irritates the hell out of me. Sometimes I even read it just for the pleasure of it. That scene is such a Kodak moment. Like that credit card commercial will say: priceless.
If the blunders and inanities of our gruesome twosome are funny at first, the post-pregnancy mess is really nasty because I have a psychotic alpha... no, blabla male sitting on Retchworthy and she just wouldn't assert herself. Who's the submissive nitwit now, eh, Retchworthy? Maybe all this mocking of the romance heroine and Retchworthy's subsequent zombie-with-breasts-and-luscious tresses act is some subversive pro-romance-novels-fuck-you-critics message from Judith McNaught. Maybe.
I can count on one finger my singular reaction to this classic: sheer stupefaction because the really brainsucked characters really do stupid things all the time. And yes, that's my middle finger we are talking about, Retchworthy.
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