Arabesque, $5.99, ISBN 1-58314-118-9
Contemporary Romance, 2000
The first thing that struck me about this fabulous story is the fact that social issues and some politics actually play a prominent part in the plot. It’s not just window dressing. Another thing is, the two stepsisters that are the heroines here are free from sexual dysfunction or accidental virginity. They are actually intelligent. And best of all, they are portrayed as successful right to the last page without having them compromise their careers or IQ for their men. Finally, the family dynamics as well as relationships between friends in A Scandalous Affair is so well-done that the story blows me away.
The story is part of a series, but I can follow it more than okay, however, so I guess it’s a pretty good standalone tale. Two stepsisters, Samantha and Simone Montgomery, have one thing in common. Both have the hots for Chad Rushmore, a family friend. Oh dear, it sounds ugly, doesn’t it? But the author deftly handles matter such that the sisters never actually have to scratch each other’s eyes out. One gets Chad, the other gets an equally fabulous man because this man teaches her that commitment is not something to be terrified of. In short, there are no consolation prizes in this story.
And by the way, I must say I am ecstatic that Donna Hill doesn’t fall into the usual trap of making one sister the pretty but spoiled one while the other, the good virginal martyr. Sam and Simone are best friends as well as sisters, and it shows. Hallelujah to sisterhood!
Sam, Simone, and Chad as well as their political family members are thrown together when they take on Washington DC over racially-motivated police brutality. It’s a hot button issue, race, and hence there are always baddies out to get our intrepid Montgomeries (and a Rushmore). All this issues seamlessly blend into the romance to the point that neither one is compromised in making room for the other. A great feat indeed.
If Sam and Simone are powerful women, the men (almost) match their women when it comes to charisma. Chad is a noble, selfless man living for the People, and he doesn’t just swing from sister to sister like some sleazy scumbag – the way he develops his affection for his future wife is well done indeed. Daddy Montgomery, Julian, has some issues he has to settle too with his wife and ex-wife, but I won’t go there as I haven’t read the previous book yet and I may just get some facts tangled up. It’s a misunderstanding and miscommunication issue, basically, but to give these characters credit, they try to talk. They really do.
And yes, the politics and social statements. Ms Hill is wise in avoiding easy resolutions: her story ends in a way that promises not exactly a bleak landscape of black politics, but not an Utopian one either. There are many things more to be done. I have nothing against an author using her stories to plug her own take on issues, but I do admit there are a few times when the author plugs her ideology in a rather clumsy manner. At those times this story makes me cringe. From A Scandalous Affair, I know Ms Hill’s opinion on the OJ Simpson verdict, for instance, but I can’t help thinking there’s a more subtle, graceful way to tell me that.
Ms Hill also falls into a trap common among many authors of Arabesque: creating too-perfect, too-dynamically successful, too-beautiful characters that it is sometimes hard to take these characters seriously. Nonetheless, in A Scandalous Affair, the story feels so real because the issues and plots are covered in an authentic, sometimes angry even, manner. The relationship between the characters ring real. Their physical and career perfection are just icing on the cake in this instance.
I had thought Ms Hill an author to try after reading her novellas. Lucky me, who would’ve thought my first full-length contemporary by her will be this good, huh?