Summer Light
by Luanne Rice, contemporary (2002)
Bantam, $7.50, ISBN 0-553-58265-8

I have a nice monkey puppet. I bought it in '97 during a trip to London, learned soon after that I am failure as a ventriloquist, and let it retire on my bedside table. Thanks to Luanne Rice's Summer Light, Mr Poppiemunchie and me have finally bonded. It's not nice being manipulated.

Summer Light combines three elements that never fail to make my goosebumps put Mount Krakatau to shame.

The heroine May Taylor is a girly-mirly ribbons and frills kinda girl who will let tears roll down her face as she talks to you. Some readers find these kind of women sympathetic. I just think that it's time someone administer the wake-up bitch slap.

Likewise, her daughter Kylie sees dead people. Kylie Joel Osment here is bullied by her peers and talks so precious, it's like the Olsen twins and Barney the dinosaur amalgamated in the very same machine that created the Fly Monster.

The hero Martin Cartier has a bad past, and this is his excuse to leave May Day and Kylie Joel Osment during their family hour again and again and again. I think I'm supposed to cry? What I did was to mutter, "Hemingway is dead, so give it up already, people."

The three Gumby Candy figures meet in a plane, when Kylie Joel Osment sees Martin's Plot Device #1, ie his Dead Daughter floating around the plane, and Plot Device #1 tells Kylie that the plane ride will get rocky. She asks Martin to help her and Momma when the plane does a nosedive. He does, tears run freely down May Day's cheeks, and it's love.

Ah, but Martin's hurt. Plot Devices #2 (Daddy), #3 (Physical Handicap), and more rear their ugly head, and so our hero suffer, our heroine's tears roll again even as she suffers, Kylie Joel Osment sees dead people who offer her advice from beyond, and finally, the ghost of Chairman Mao takes over the body of Kylie Joel Osment and she runs away to an island commune where she starts a new Communist government.

Guess which one of the above is completely made up by yours truly. And yes, I wish the island commune thing is real too.

I have to admit there are some scenes that really sing to me (see below for a really good example), and sometimes, when Ms Rice isn't too intent on creating contrived, manipulative muzak scenes, Summer Light could have been a sincere love story for the ages. But more often than not I feel as if I'm reading a formulaic script tailor-made for Lifetime Network Channel.

Summer Light is the closest I've seen to Luanne Rice writing a "conventional" romance. But she takes a detour somewhere around James Patterson Avenue and Robert James Waller Alley, spent too much time in Women Are Suckers For Martyr Men Who Go On And On Incessantly (And To Think You Hate That Titanic Song? Get A Hold Of This!) Expo, before getting back to earth.

Oh, and Kylie? Can you see this? Yes, this is a dead dodo, Kylie, and it's gonna bite your pathetic, sad lil' Olsen bunny ass. Just you wait, you annoying little tear ball. Just you wait. The Wrath Of The Dodos will be meted out on whiny pipsqueaks everywhere, bwahahahaha!

Rating: 74 (bonus points for the really romantic last paragraph of Chapter 1 - page 21 if you want to browse at the bookstore)

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