The Wrong Child
by Patricia Kay, contemporary (2000)
Berkley, $6.99, ISBN 0-425-17770-X

Contemporary category author Trish Alexander's mainstream debut The Wrong Child (writing as Patricia Kay), morbid title (for a romance, that is) notwithstanding, is a very readable melodrama. Well, it never actually rises above being a rather overblown melodrama soap material, but it has me reading the book in one session non-stop.

The story grabs me with a very compelling prologue - an overworked nurse suffers a fatal heart attack, thus unable to rectify an error that causes two couples to take home the wrong baby. Cut to eleven years later, where Abbie Bernard, single mommy, realizes that her daughter Kendall is not hers. Her real - or shall I say biological - daughter is Erin, who is raised by single daddy Logan O'Connell. Eventually these two adults marry for the sake of reuniting both lil' girls, but alas, problems arise.

Now, Logan and Abbie are stereotypes. Abbie has an unrealistically bad marriage (let's just say I doubt there's a man who would stop sleeping with his wife after she had a child because he couldn't stand kids - or maybe it's just me not knowing enough dysfunctional people) and she is one harassed, frustrated mother. Since Logan is a man, he has it better - he's a Romantic Single Daddy pining after his late wife whom he loves. Even better, unlike poor dateless Abbie who has to deal with an overbearing mother, he gets to have Abbie and his sister-in-law catfight over him. I tell ya, if I get to be a romance novel character, no heroine crap for me, I want to be the hero.

Still, The Wrong Child is a fast-paced, readable story despite its frequent plunge into overwrought melodrama. I can't explain it - I roll up my eyes when Abbie descends into yet another mini-emotional breakdown after her overtures to Erin fail. Young lady, Rome isn't built in a day, so relax. I have no doubt her frustration on her face would scare off fragile kiddies anyway.

In fact, come to think of it, every woman in this story seems to be on the verge of a mental breakdown. They really don't do things in a low-key manner, they bluster, they stare defiantly, and they want things to be okay and they want it now. And Erin and Kendall are strictly exploitative muzak characters; I can see the Final Drama coming ten chapters early.

Yet at the same time that I can't see TWC as anything but a rather substandard TV-movie script where the actresses would no doubt wear bad makeup and shriek a lot, the author paradoxically manages to create stronge emotional anchors in her story. I can't help feeling for the overwrought characters, because no matter how unrealistically they shriek and stomp their feet, I feel that their pain and confusion are real. This is the reason I suspect I keep reading long into the night.

The way I see it, The Wrong Child may be overwrought and overly melodramatic at places, but it's a pretty okay sort of blustery drama.

Rating: 79

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