by Cherie Claire, historical (1999)
Zebra, $4.99, ISBN 0-8217-6252-4
This book has a wonderful thing going for it: a setting in Louisiana and characters of Acadian descent. There is enough history and culture to make the tapestry of a backdrop colorful enough to keep me reading. The characters are another story altogether.
Poor Amanda Rose Richardson. Twenty-one and already feeling the biological clock ticking, she wants to feel romance. But her father turns away all suitors, so she devises a plan with friend to set up a rendezvous with the local bad boy. Amanda is naive enough to believe that he would be content with a kiss and some loving words. Too bad, the man has eyes on her inheritance. Altogether now: forced elopement.
She is saved from this fate worse than death when rich man-about-town Cajun hunk Rene Comeaux marries her. Daddy isn't pleased that his daughter has married a darned immigrant Frenchie. Rene's kinfolks aren't exactly ecstatic either.
What could be a lovely story about bridging cultural gaps and finding love soon degenerates into silly sessions of Big Misunderstandings and Blame It On The Women game. Rene, despite being lauded by everyone for his good command of English, misreads everything Amanda says as a slur on his race and family and hence treats her like a punching bag. He treats her cold for her father's nasty words to him. How nice, dear - blame it on the woman. He treats her like dung when he misinterprets yet again another of Amanda's hesitation as an indication of her dislike of his race. Frankly, the woman is in a strange family who isn't exactly welcoming in their reception, so what does Rene expect? Nincompoop. From pop-psych books I've read, usually the one that is the most defensive has something to hide, usually his own insecurities. I bet Rene is the one ashamed of his ethnicity.
Then there's Amanda's father, a bigoted, nasty moron. Yet somehow the wise, loving nanny manages to carry an unrequited love for this man for years. Never mind that the man's ideas and outlooks are totally contradictory to her own. She loves him. Because the author wants everyone to be paired and living happily-ever-after by the last page, regardless of compatibility. Life's so much easier if you're a romance hero. You get away with everything.
And this man's unpleasantness is explained by the fact that he is abandoned by his wife for a Frenchman. Then, lo, it seems that she never left with another man, she loves them still, et cetera. She's an idiot, I deduce from the story's tone, for running away from an unhappy marriage to a rigid control freak. So I guess that justifies the man's bigotry. Again, blame it on the women. We women should remain in unhappy marriages to ensure that our unworthy class-A mistake of a hubby is kept content, forever amen. If this is how things should be run, I'm opting for a sex change ASAP.
Amanda is a pretty decent heroine, I must say. She really matures into a stronger and wiser woman at the end of the book. It is unfortunate that she is bogged down by really flat supporting characters. Too bad she doesn't pack her bags and go off to some place with more decent people around.
A Cajun Dream is a case of missed potential. A pity. It has enough cultural richness that promises a wonderful story, but it turns out to be yet another story about how women should be martyrs in a nice world where all good people play musical chairs and get paired off for big weddings by the epilogue. I prefer a little more complexity in my reading, and a little less corn.
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