McCloud's Woman
by Patricia Rice, contemporary (2003)
Ivy, $6.99, ISBN 0-8041-1982-1

Patricia Rice's brand of Trauma Porn isn't as effective as that of some other authors out there when it comes to selling razor blades in the market. That's because her characters tend to be realistic, even human, instead of just being a list of stereotypical baggages. In McCloud's Woman, however, she is starting to tip over the dark side. The characters are still readable, but the author's heavy handed machinations to prevent them from being happy is too obvious to me, the reader. If her hand magically pops out from a page to offer me a free pass to a lifetime supply of Prozac, I won't be any less disgruntled.

The problem with this book - the same problem with this author's Trauma Porn books, come to think of it - is that it suffers from the Bad Fungus Syndrome. The main characters have this annoying tendency to pull magical traumas out of nowhere (or out of their hinds, I suspect) just to prolong their - and my - agony. When the author begins to come off like grasping at straws just to keep her characters mired in misery, I begin to feel manipulated and I resent that.

Mara Simon - her baggages are too numerous to be listed here - and Tim McCloud - only slightly less baggage-ridden, but he displays a limitless capacity to shoulder misplace guilt on his broad shoulders - were a teenaged couple until circumstances tore them apart. Today, she is a gorgeous ex-model and movie producer who needs to shoot a pirate movie at a location currently occupied by forensic anthropologist Tim's digging site. There's just the least of the problems these two characters face.

Mara is, frankly, the biggest idiot in the land as she willingly divorces her husband only to get herself entangled into a post-divorce mess that forces her to deal with her husband on a daily basis. I thought a divorce is to get that stupid man out of your life forever, but in the lethal hands of a professional victim like Mara, it's like an invitation to more heartbreak. The author wants to portray Mara as a survivor of bad marriages, but it's hard to admire a survivor who seems happy to be stuck in the same mess again and again in some futile cycle. Oh, and don't forget her problems with her parents and the death of her brother.

Meanwhile, Tim is trying to win the title of the Biggest Martyr of them all. Among his numerous problems - all self-inflicted - are those Evil Boxes containing Incriminating Documents that will peg his mentor as a Bad Guy. He doesn't want to see his mentor bend over in the shower for ugly prisoners with too many tattooes, but he can't bring himself to destroy the Boxes either! So every day he stares at the Boxes with a constipated expression that is supposed to passed off as The Expression Of A Man Of Honor Torn or something. Give me a break. His exasperating tendency to dig Mara's past troubles only to catalogue those troubles in a list so that he can blame for every one of them is not only ridiculous, it makes me want to scream at him to get the forky-worky over himself. His brother's death, her moving away, everything about her? It's all his fault, he insists. Can a shrink come over and whack his crucification complex out of him?

Instead of getting these two people to sit down at a Stupid People twelve-step program or at least get them to bash each other in the head until their skulls crack - either one is okay with me - the author chooses to ignore character development in favor of piling on the external problems. It's like some bizarre form of reverse anorexia - the characters' baggages are enough to provide stories for several books, but Ms Rice seems to believe that it's not enough until she buries her characters under too many disjointed subplots.

The result is a book that drains all joy out of me rather than a book that entertains me. Factor in the predictable ending where the heroine gives up her career to kowtow to her mighty man and the controlled drugs aisle at the local pharmacy looks like the Shangri-la of love and bliss in comparison.

Rating: 49

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