Mills & Boon, £0.50, ISBN 0-263-72800-5
Contemporary Romance, 1978
Sonora Sundown was published in 1978, so do bear in mind that this was the time when sexual harassment is sexy. Wait, today is still that time too. Anyway, back in 1978, it was acceptable for the heroine to be the pinnacle of uselessness squared, and romance novels back at that time were even more obvious with the wish fulfillment agenda. It wasn’t enough for a wretchedly inept bimbo to be molested by the arrogant mule, this mule must also want her over all the other loose skanky women that he normally consorted with too. It’s not just winning his molesting heart, it’s also pulverizing other women’s worth into dust, as there is nothing more validating to a woman’s existence than to trounce other women in becoming the mate of a sex fiend. Janet Dailey follows the formula very faithfully in Sonora Sundown.
Brandy Ames, she of the “honey-gold hair” with a “copper hue”, is on a horse, and she’s in the Arizona desert, completely lost. While talking to her horse, she stumbles upon the rancher, Jim. She’s at first grateful, but then she realizes that he looks all unshaven and hairy and scary and, oh, of all her luck, to find a man who looks like he hasn’t bathed or shaven in the middle of a desert! She screams and tries to the run away. Meanwhile, Jim is mad that someone has stumbled upon him doing his hairy ape raping the cactus act so he snarls and gives chase. She falls, screams, and he snarls that if she screams, she will die because the rattlesnakes and scorpions will all come out and sting her.
She screams again and runs off, he snarls and tackles her, she screams that he should stop touching her, he snarls back that he’s going to “make love” to her (see, he’s a gentleman – other smelly desert savages would have use that insulting “rape” word), and proceeds to force a kiss on her until she’s a whimpering, terrified mess, begging him to let her go.
This is, simply put, the most awesome kind of first date tackle ever. Can you imagine these two telling their kids how they first met?
The rest of the story can’t live up to this awesome so-like-rape-it-has-to-be-romantic moment. Brandy, naturally, has no clue until she’s informed upfront that Jim is actually James Corbett, famous film star who dates floozies and tramps, and she spends the story basically cowed and terrified of Jim’s overwhelming masculinity and sighing bitterly that surely, she has nothing that Jim can possibly want from her. Jim flaunts his co-star, the trampy LaRaine Evans, like he’s either the biggest asshole or the most oblivious idiot ever not to realize how cruel he is being to that idiot woman who can’t help but to idolize him like a star-struck doormat. Maybe it’s a combo of both.
Brandy spends the whole story alternating between being Fay Wray screaming that she’s about to be raped by an ape or being a sighing doll staring after Jim and wondering when he will deign to love her. If Brandy’s legs are not quivering, her eyelashes are. If she’s not near tears, she’s in tears. I don’t know how this darling survives without shoveling a mountain of Xanax into her mouth every day, because she’s so melodramatic when it comes to everything.
The trouble with this story is not Brandy’s melodramatic uselessness or Jim’s equally melodramatic jerkass act, though, as both of them are so horrible that they become so spectacularly hilarious after a while. Maybe I’ve just had too much to drink – I reached for something more… fortifying… after a few pages. Anyway, the problem here is that there is nothing here that matches the dramatic WWE desert tussle of the opening scene. The story goes downhill from there, and it can never match the delightfully horrifying-comedic tone set by its first few pages. Isn’t that a shame?