The Perfect Family
by Patricia Potter, contemporary (2001)
Berkley, $6.99, ISBN 0-425-17811-0

I always subscribe to this school of thought that when a story has to use a letter/journal, discovered at a convenient point in a story, to resolve matters, that story is definitely afternoon TV-movie material. Guess what, The Perfect Family, Patricia Potter's first full-length contemporary (somewhat) romance, has a grand, epic letter revealed at the crucial moment for the heroine to go ugh, ugh, ugh, waaaa! over! Where's my "TV Movie" stamp?

That, and the fact that the heroine has two choices: one is a nice, friendly man who waits on her head and foot, but he's - eeeuw - a yuppie lawyer with neat hair, while the other is a - yay! - rancher fellow who probably stinks to high heaven, ignores her unless his hands are all over her bosom, and treats her like a duty imposed. Guess which one sets Jessica Clayton's ovaries on fire. They don't call the romance genre surreal for no reason.

Oh, and the title of this book? What a not-too-subtle joke. Jess's new family is not perfect. The story is about how Jess, who has Suffered In The Hands Of A Nasty Scumbag, living her life in solitude, bookstore-cooperating, and dog caregiving when Alex the lawyer drops by to tell her that she may be the long lost missing daughter of the Clements clan. She is, and how she ends up estranged makes some heavy stuff in the Prologue. The Prologue is the coolest thing about this story if you ask me - nothing makes my day better than a heavy dose of infidelity, betrayal, and gratuitous gunpower.

"Me a long lost daughter? Oh, I finally get a family! Yippeeee! Here I come! (What? You're saying I'm happy because I will be heiress to acres and acres and acres of prime cattle land? HOW DARE YOU!)" Jessie packs up.

Alex neglects to tell her that she is heading right into a family feud. The martriach Sarah is regretting that the Clements is a democracy - people decide things by voting, and her suggestion of keeping the house instead of selling it will undoubtedly be vetoed unless she convinces Jess to take her side. (By the way, the family tree in this book lists Sarah as deceased in 1968, and this story takes place long after 1968. I keep waiting for Sarah to bare her fangs and suck the blood out of the annoying younger Clements, but alas, no luck there.)

Lucky for Jess who is actually an intelligent heroine who takes no s**t from anyone, there's Ross Macleod, adopted Clements to keep her company when she isn't trying to figure out who is trying to kill everyone. There's Alex, who is at her beck and call, who tries his best to make her stay comfy, and there's Ross, who treats her hot and cold. Alex doesn't stand a chance.

The suspense is familiar, the romance is disappointing. Let's just say heavy petting followed by regrets and misunderstandings is not my idea of foreplay. Frankly, I think the Clements is not worth any woman's time anyway. Hey, I want to, er, belong to Matthew Broderick, but you won't see me chaining myself to Matthew's car and let the cops drag me away just to get his attention.

Rating: 75

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