by Janice Sims, contemporary (2006)
Arabesque, $6.99, ISBN 1-58314-627-X
Janice Sims' That Summer At American Beach continues to see the author writing in the same style as she did in her previous book. While I'm all for an author doing what she feels is best to grow in her field, I have some reservations about the author's current storytelling style, as I feel that there is currently too much telling and not enough showing.
The plot of That Summer At American Beach is somewhat of a surprise as well since I don't normally associate this author with a plot that is as campy as what this one turns out to be, heh. Here's the story: our heroine Rayne Walker is a successful party planner in New York City who is surprised one day to learn from her aunt that her father Ray, who was separated from her mother Julianne eighteen years ago, is suffering from prostate cancer. That's bad news, but it's not as bad as the fact that the silly man is refusing to take the necessary surgery to remove the body part involved because he doesn't want to be less of a man, so to speak. Rayne feels that she should fly back to American Beach, Florida, and knock some sense back into that man. However, before she does this, her mother finally decides to reveal a secret: Ray is not Rayne's biological father.
Actually Rayne knows this since her twenty-first birthday so she merely gets annoyed that Julianne and Ray feel this need to hide the truth from her. Her biological father is Benjamin Jefferson, Jr who had an affair with Julianne while conveniently neglecting to inform her that he was married. Benjamin, learning that Rayne is finally returning home, has always suspected that Rayne is really his daughter so he feels that it is time to get to the bottom of this matter once and for all. His son, Wayne Jefferson, is called to help by getting into Rayne's good graces so that it will be easier for Ben to show up and say hello later. Unfortunately, Rayne and Wayne do not anticipate this attraction to spring up between them. Don't worry, readers, they're pretty horrified by this development as well.
Of course, for this romance to work without getting many romance readers going up in arms and sending Ms Sims all kinds of letters and emails about sins and genetic mutations, Wayne must not be Benjamin's biological son or Julianne isn't really Ben's biological daughter. When I first read this book, I jokingly tell myself a possible solution to this mess and then laugh because I'm sure that it's possibly too far-fetched. Imagine my... surprise, let's just say, when I realize that I have actually guessed correctly the actual paternity of our main characters.
On the bright side, the plot is campy and even trashy at times with all the secrets coming to light. The author is well aware of this and she is more than happy to have Rayne exclaiming at times how ridiculous she finds some of the revelations dropped on her by the people around her are. I don't normally associate the author with tongue-in-cheek takes on trashy soap opera kind of plots involving rich and beautiful people with way too much money and time but often not enough common sense though so it takes awhile for me to get into the swing of things. Actually, at first I am a little disoriented because I am more familiar with the Janice Sims that writes family drama and unless the reader is reading the back blurb carefully, there is nothing about this book that hints of the direction Ms Sims is going to take in this story. "What on earth? Has the aliens" I go when I realize that we have a potential brother-sister uh-oh thing here but Rayne soon begins to let me in on how absurd she often finds her situation to be. I soon readjust my expectations ("Well, this isn't For Keeps!") and even absent-mindedly hum the theme song of Dynasty a few times as I turn the pages. Too bad there's no Alexis showing up here though.
I sometimes wonder why Rayne and Wade don't just tell their parents and relatives that they are all crazy mofo's that deserve their own reality TV shows like those silly rich brats at Laguna Beach currently do. Still, they are intelligent characters with likeable personalities and I like how Rayne is often able to recognize the absurdity of some of the situations she finds herself in. It's just that Ms Sims also at the same time makes sure that her main characters are always doing the right thing that the story soon feels really lacking in terms of a conflict or anything actually that will genuinely challenge the developing relationship between Rayne and Wade.
Yes, I know, the whole Virginia Andrews thing is a pretty big obstacle in itself but once all the secrets are revealed and all the cards are down on the table, the whole network of secrets actually feels quite silly in itself: a long-drawn play of secrets and torrid affairs that are prolonged for so many decades because the players involved are either too silly or too mule-headed to come clean long after the need to keep secrets is long over. Even the reason for the divorce of Julianne and Ray is one silly miscommunication thingie that is drawn out for over eighteen years because the two of them are happy to play the martyr in the name of love. The plot of That Summer At American Beach therefore is basically as logical as a typical soap opera storyarc. While there's nothing wrong with that, given the nature of this story, I wish there is something that will genuinely challenge Rayne and Wade. These two are always so cool and perfect! Even if they do something that deviates from their Mr and Miss Perfect Shiny People routine, they quickly realize it a few pages later and apologize. These two are so always right and perfect that I find myself thinking that they surely cannot be related to the bunch of twits that are supposed to be their family members at all. Are we sure that their real parents aren't some all-knowing gurus who, after discovering the secrets of humanity and all that, have retreated to some monastery up in the Himalayas to contemplate the state of existence or something like that?
Therefore, while this story has plenty of camp potential and it does show an unexpected mischievous side of Janice Sims that aren't obvious in her previous efforts, the main characters' saint-like personalities rob the story of much-needed conflicts to spice things up. A typical conflict follows this pattern: a silly fellow shows up to cause trouble, our hero or heroine will show up and scold this character, this character then sheepishly admits how badly behaved he or she is being, and this character then joins the increasing number of people who admire our hero and heroine, thus ending the conflict very soon after the conflict first popped up. While people who always say and do the right things make great friends in real life if I happen to need a favor or some advice or even a listening ear, they do not make interesting characters in a story. A conflict that will challenge Rayne and Wade and make them show some vulnerabilities would have done wonders in making these characters seem more human than world peace ambassadors.
To sum things up, That Summer At American Beach could have been an entertaining story in a fun trashy way but the author's way of telling too much as opposed to showing in this story coupled with a lack of a genuine conflict to generate a sense of urgency in the story make it too easy for me to feel a frosty sense of disconnection from the story.
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