Swan's Grace
by Linda Francis Lee, historical (2000)
Ivy, $6.99, ISBN 0-449-00206-3

Swan's Grace, like its sister book Dove's Way, is geared for readers who love their main characters, especially their heroines tortured, staked, crucified, hanged up and split open, bitter, tormented, bullied, and self-absorbed. If these dysfunctions make your day, by all means, stop reading and go buy the book. Me, I say there's torment, and there's predictable torment. The former, done well, is cathartic and uplifting. The latter, of which Swan's Grace is one, is tedious, condescending, and ultimately, a choice example of primetime sappy muzak.

Sophie Wentworth is a cellist. Ssh, don't mention anything to her about her childhood where she was bullied, ocstracized, insulted, belittled, and bullied. Her father doesn't treat her well, but she still lives for his approval. Sophie will look good on my doorstep, her colorless pallor will go well with my new beige paint on the walls. Finally, when daddy summons her home, she drops everything - literally - her career, her willpower, and her backbone, and dashes home.

Only to realize that Dady has sold her inheritance - the house - to Grayson Hawthorne. Grayson is also bethrothed to her, but as usual, no one will tell her that, not even her unknown beau. Why? It's not the right time. The word count has to be met, and readers expect a really big, ugly fallout, right?

Grayson is afraid to love, since his childhood is lousy. Sophie is unable to mask her mental hysteria and grow a spine, since her childhood is lousy. Throughout the story they pout, bicker, scream Why don't the world understand me?, weep, and test the limits of my nerves, all the while tormenting me with the inevitable Big Fallout when Sophie discovers her bethrothal.

Psychologists have long known that humans thrive on fear and insecurities. Catharsis is a way of release. But when the insecurities and neuroses are deliberately prolonged, incessantly raised to a feverish pitch, my senses are drained by the end of the day. My reluctant adrenaline surge makes me cranky. The incessant bombardment of misery and pain also feels calculated - look how neatly the psychological baggages line up: one falls, another one marches forth - hence my resentment at the inevitable assumption that I am being manipulated to emote to Swan's Grace.

Maybe someone at Ballantine should stamp a A Romantic Frank Kafka Adventure label underneath the title. With such overdose of artificial - and worse, predictable - neuroses, who needs Ricki Lake?

Nice prose though.

Rating: 50

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