Sam's Letters To Jennifer
by James Patterson, contemporary (2004)
Warner, $7.99, ISBN 0-446-69508-4

I hear that James Patterson has joined the RWA. I hope he buys a few writing instruction tapes while he's making the RWA members star-struck (watch out for Nora Robert's flying high heel) because I think I've put on two hundred pounds worth of calories while trying to work my way through Mr Patterson's second romantic novel. Wait, he's an RWA member now, so I guess he won't be insulted if I call this book a romance novel.

And it's not even a decent romance novel. It is as if Mr Patterson has listened to too many submissive victim female themed country songs while on a Nicholas Sparks or Robert James Waller binge in his search for a muse. This book is hackneyed and formulaic in the way romantic stories written by men tend to be: it is set in a house by the lake and it has letters left behind by an old woman to her younger relative filled with stories of My Grand Adulterous Love Affair That Will Inspire Thee To Find True Love. There are gratuitous cases of terminal diseases flying about to keep the Kleenex afloat even after this Titanic has crashed through an iceberg made of pure saccharine. In this story, women have no personalities or even lives that revolve outside their men and these women spend so much time weeping over lost men only to find happiness in new men (repeat and rinse). This book is The Notebook of My Wedding over the Bridges of Madison County.

Oh yeah, the plot. Sam, the granny, is in a coma. But she thoughtfully leaves a bundle of letters to her granddaughter Jennifer, detailing her love story with a man named Doc while being married to a not-too-nice man, which she finishes writing right before she slips into her coma. Jen races to Grandma's side, where she's supposed to take care of Sam, but Jen spends more time reading Granny's letters. That's devotion. At least she's not using Gran's PC to surf for porn, I guess. Granny's "I Loved A Man While Being Stuck In A Dry Marriage, It's Like, So Inspirational, Sob Sob Sob" letters inspires Jennifer to rekindle a relationship with Brendan, her childhood friend (or so I'm told - Mr Patterson doesn't do that character development nonsense, for some reason), who is dying of brain cancer. You know, for a woman still traumatized over the loss of her boyfriend, Jen knows how to pick those men for her rebound relationships. It's probably less painful to kiss an activated lawn mover but that's just me.

Character development is zero. Relationship development is even less than zero. There is no showing, just telling. This book is mercifully short despite the publisher's attempt to use big fonts and wide margins to cover the fact that they are charging too much for this... thing. Things happen for no reason other than for gratuitous sentimentalism. Why is Granny leaving behind letters about her adulterous love affair to her granddaughter? I mean, seriously, should I have a fling with someone other than my husband, I really doubt I'll set it down in writing just before I die. I want people to remember me as someone other than the corpse with a scarlet A tattooed on the forehead. Let me make this clear: I'm not anal about adultery in my stories, but they better have some good reason to be cheating on their husbands. And in the case of this book, with its wretchedly underwritten state that causes the story to exist in a contextless vaccum wrapped in soggy tear-soaked Kleenex, Sam did what she had to do and Jen did what she had to do because that's what Mr Patterson believes women should do in a romance novel: have no spine and have to latch on from men to men to feel whole and complete. This book is a formula, a badly written one at that. When Mr Patterson makes Nicholas Sparks come off like a poet, that's how bad this book is.

So here're my letters to Mr Patterson: K E E P T H E D A Y J O B.

Rating: 06

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