After The Fire
by Kathryn Shay, contemporary (2003)
Berkley, $5.99, ISBN 0-425-19304-7

Very often romance authors try to insert all sorts of baggages in their characters' psyche. If they do it well, the book will be great drama. If not, it's Trauma Porn time. After The Fire is a classic Trauma Porn book - the author has so much fun making her characters so miserable but she fails to resolve these issues realistically. In this book, it's a simultaneous showcase of sexist double standards, too many whiny pity-parties, and all in all, too much drama and not enough resolution.

Three siblings of the Malvaso family are fire-fighters afflicted with a zillion baggages. They find love and angst with partners and the combined weight of everyone's baggages can keep a Boeing 747 grounded.

There's Mitch. He meets Megan Hale. Megan Hale has her baggages - she's a detective and both her father and husband died on the line of fire. He has his baggages. The wife is an unbelievably ridiculously bad caricature of the Slut Bitch From Hell and Mitch takes what seems like light years to break away from her. Mitch and Megan slowly fall in love, but their personalities are defined by two things only in this book - the wife and their baggages. Megan is oh-so-pefect because she is a long suffering beacon of maternal feminine virtue and the monster wife of Mitch makes her look better in comparison. Likewise, Mitch is supposed to be the perfect noble father because he is too stupid to break away from his own dysfunctional marriage. Then again, how stupid is he to stay in that marriage so long that he actually sires two children from the trainwreck? This is a ridiculously blatant manipulation from Kathryn Shay: she is taking the lazy way out and expecting me to weep because her main characters are getting off by being too weak to break away from their miserable situations.

Then there's Jenny Malvaso. Oh yes, she wants a baby. Bet you didn't see that one coming. Her previous two marriages ended in disaster and ten big suitcases of issues in Jenny's closet. She wants Grady O'Connor, the guy staying with her at their duplex residence, to provide the sperm for her eggs. Grady, on his part, has some rather over-the-top issues that doesn't stop him from whining about wanting to be a father. Frankly, the both of them should just stop bringing babies into this world if they persist in being sour-prunes that for some reason aren't medicated on antidepressants yet.

And then there's Zach. If he's a woman, he'll be Mitch's demonized wife. But he's a man, so he gets to try and make amends with his ex-wife and kid that he wronged badly. This guy is at least doing something to improve himself, unlike his two siblings that are walking morality tales of the consequences of skipping on one's Prozac prescription. The author's double standard regarding Zach as opposed to Mitch's wife however grates on my nerves too much for me to fully appreciate Zach's story.

But in the end, it doesn't matter. The author uses really hackneyed and trite pop psychology to resolve her characters' issues, resulting in a very insincere and manipulative story where the characters' issues are bloated into unrealistically huge proportions to get me to weep for them. This is a very crude way of telling a story, and besides, Catherine Anderson does this much better than Kathryn Shay. Ms Shay expects me to be in awe of the legend of the noble firefighter so much that I will blindly perform the orchestra of tears Ms Shay is hoping to conduct in this book. Too bad, I'm a skeptical old broad and I don't buy these oversentimental fake Kleenex stories.

Maybe next time the author will put some effort in making her characters human instead of being merely one-dimensional martyrs trapped by their own inertia. There is nothing in this book that a trip to the shrink and a heavy dose of Prozac can't cure.

Rating: 50

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