by Susan Wiggs, contemporary (2002)
Warner, $6.99, ISBN 0-446-61078-X
Can someone explain me to me the logic of this? Say you are an author wanting to break into the mainstream women's fiction market. After all, your house could use an extension or two and the kids need to go to college. To make sure that readers will pick up your book, you're supposed to write something spectacular, right? Something grabbing?
Then why is Susan Wiggs writing a story that is just like a zillion women's fiction stuff out there? It's like me opening a bakery in a new town, right next to the more established bakery, and me selling the exact same bread right down to the taste and packaging. Sure, maybe someone will get confused and walk into my store and buy something by accident, but is this really a sound strategy?
I mean, does this work, one trying to grab people's attention by appearing just like everybody else?
Anyway, Passing Through Paradise is all the usual stuff. A big rundown house. A heroine, misunderstood and in need of money after her husband died, and oh yes, everybody except for a few key characters hate her. A hero who fixes her house up and eventually unclogs her plumbing. Politician husband who, being a politician, naturally isn't a very nice guy, but does the heroine stand up for herself? Nooooo.
The town of Paradise is where our heroine Sandra Winslow, the Black Widow of Paradise, lives after her husband proves to everybody why politicians just can't drive. The town hates her, because they believe she shot her husband or something for insurance money. If only she is that smart - the insurance company won't pay because they say that hubby committed suicide. Yet the people still hate her.
Move? Oh come on, we are talking about a romance heroine here. They and their houses are like, you know, joined at the hips or something. Move? Are you kidding?
Sandy asks her husband's childhood buddy Mike Malloy to help her repair her house (see, told you). No money, but wa-hey, let's repair the house even when the roof is not in danger of falling down. It's a good thing the house doesn't have those phallus-shaped knobbed fence thingies. Just the thought of that and what Sandy can do with those thingies are enough to give me nightmares.
So there's the story. Sandy makes lists, some of which are pretty funny, and mopes about her sad life.
Mike fixes things and pampers her.
Sandy makes more lists and holds back her Pain and Anguish as she thinks about her life.
Mike fixes things and pampers her.
Sandy makes more lists, and she turns white in the face as she tries to hold back her Pain and Anguish.
Sandy doesn't do anything in this story. At all. Then again, maybe with all the money she barely has going to the repairs of the house that doesn't need repairing that badly, she can't afford a doormat and decides to do that doormat job herself. Mike is kind, charming, sensitive, handy, fixer-upper, a dream guy that can only be one-dimensional and right out of a Cleo magazine article entitled Your Fantasy Dream Guy - How To Delude Yourself Some More.
I must concede that Passing Through Paradise is well-written. Even at her best impersonation of a well-worn doormat, Sandy never grates on my nerves as much as she could have. Her relationship with her father is very well-done and is one of the best things about the story. The other best thing is Ms Wiggs' description of why Sandy's parents break apart - it's a real and poignant way of showing why sometimes love isn't enough.
But Mike and Sandy's relationship is strictly Harlequin Romance stuff. And Mike and his ex-wife? The "I'm so glad I divorced unfaithful you for this silent, undemanding new wife of mine!" thing. It is as if only secondary characters can have a more realistic relationship so as to not drive readers away. Sandy and her late husband? That is the worst, most trite Big Revelation ever. What is it, you ask? Shall I tell? Maybe not, but let's put it this way. Susan Wiggs' buddy Susan Elizabeth Phillips, who predictably enough gives this book a glowing recommendation on the front cover, has also used this Lame Big Revelation Plot Device before (only in a more spectacularly flaccid way compared to how Ms Wiggs uses the plot device in Passing Through Paradise). Don't click on the link if you want to remain unspoiled.
So, in closing (gee, do I sound pretentious or what?), Passing Through Paradise does just that. There are times when it is almost good, but like wind, I guess, it passes through soon after. Let's hope enough confused Barbara Delinsky fans will pick up this book by accident ("Gee, Susan Wiggs sound a lot like Barb Delinsky, I tell you!") and contribute lots and lots of money to Ms Wiggs' college fund for the kids (or something), so that she can write something more interesting in the future.
This book at Amazon.com
This book at Amazon UK
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