Hometown Girl
by Mary Jane Meier, contemporary (2002)
Onyx, $6.99, ISBN 0-451-41020-3

After a spectacular debut reminiscent of a giant, ugly maggot bursting out of a smelly trash can, Mary Jane Meier is back with Hometown Girl. Who is she anyway, that Onyx is pushing her at a $6.99 price? Not that I care, but I'm curious, because last I checked, Onyx's superstar Catherine Anderson is still at the $6.99 price. Is Ms Meier a mystery author trying to earn a few extra dollars in the romance genre too?

Anyway, like I said, I'm curious but I really don't care enough to lose sleep over it. One thing I can say, of the proliferation of smalltown romances, Hometown Girl is the first one that drives pure terror into my heart and make me be so grateful that I don't like in an American small town. If this story is based on Ms Meier's Utah hometown, I hope my $6.99 will go some way to ease the pain of her living in that horrible, horrible place.

Laura Van Horn is an environmental lawyer (think Ally McBeal, not The Associates) who drops everything - including a rich lawyer boyfriend - to rush back to San Rafael, Utah for her sister Becca. There, she encounters her old-schoolgirl-crush Gabe Randolph, who now owns an oil company that will drill ugly big holes all over San Rafael. Laura will not let that happen! She will not! But since she is a romance heroine, she has no plans, no strategems, just standing there and shrieking like a silly dingbat about that melodramatic pap Silent Spring (make no mistake, I'm glad that book raised public awareness about pollutions and ecological issues, but it's still melodramatic pap nonetheless) or something.

But don't expect much conflict in that department. Gabe and Laura are too busy solving Becca's life and other annoying external conflicts, so much so that the romance is pretty much an obligatory and desultory addition to a story that already doesn't feel right. For example, Becca is stuck is a custodial lawsuit with her ex-husband, and apparently in San Rafael, the best way to "safeguard" your character is not by hiring a good lawyer but to ask Sis to fake an affair with Gabe. And the town of San Rafael are populated with either obviously villainous, red-necked butt-ugly buffoons (whom nobody suspects are bad guys, of course, even after they threaten everybody hurt and mayhem) or "good, happy people" who will be the first to stick a blade into you if they find your character against their code of conduct. Like I said, smalltowns in romances have bored me in the past, but this is the first smalltown that made me shudder in fear. I feel claustrophobic already reading this story. Big daddy, mommy, brother, and sister are watching you, people. Ooh.

And Ms Meier's lip service "love your nature" resolution will surely bring tears to the eyes of many a Republicans, as they nod and say, "Oh yes, trees are so important, uh huh - let's start drilling, boys!" The fact that this book even acknowledges the existance of Rachel Carson's Silent Spring even as it does that - wow. I don't know what to say. Ms Meier has captured the hypocrasy, claustrophobia, and materialism of the corporate world perfectly even as she hits the bullseye in depicting the painful mundanity and cruelty of life in a smalltown filled with people with sheep-like mentality. The trouble is, she is passing all these as things to rejoice and celebrate over.

I suddenly feel so glad for my daily enduring of traffic jams, public transport, rude and whiny cab drivers, ruder bus drivers, and unhealthy cholestrol-heavy fast food and carbohydrate diet. Man, it feels so good to be alive, reading crap books, and watching Survivor Marquesas and The Amazing Race 2 on TV. (Incidentally, if you're not watching these shows, you're missing out on a lot. Really!)

Rating: 42

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