Home Before Dark
by Susan Wiggs, contemporary (2004)
MIRA, $6.99, ISBN 0-7783-2019-7

Home Before Dark sounds like a romantic suspense novel, but it's actually a contemporary romance with heavy leanings towards the women's fiction genre in style and tone. The title is a rather graceful description of the heroine Jessie Ryder who is slowly going blind. In this book, she finally comes home to Edenville, Texas, after fifteen years of traveling abroad as a photographer to make peace with her sister Luz Ryder Benning and to reconcile with her daughter Lila, whom she gives away to Luz before she left town. Along the way, a promise of romance arises from Jessie meeting the pilot Dusty Matlock. Can Jessie make it home before dark?

Gosh, that sounds corny, doesn't it, but that's what Home Before Dark is: a thoroughly corny and unimaginative story filled to the brim with central casting characters and angsts and plots. Jessie is a standard women's fiction "heroine come home" story in every way, from her name to her career choice to her background to... everything, really! Ditto Dusty who is so predictable as the lovelorn widower. Luz is the predictable sister who fulfils the role of the Married, Respectable, and Resentful Sister. Lila is the expected rebellious teenaged girl going wild while waiting for the hugsie from mommy that will save the day and make things right.

The romance between Jessie and Dusty is lukewarm, mostly consisting of Too Good Dusty offering some TLC while Jessie flails around and whips herself bloody for not being a goody-goody wife and mother person. Jessie of course keeps her impending blindness a secret from Dusty, with predictable consequences. Luz and Jessie's relationship fares a little better but again, this relationship is a rehash of storylines done so many times in much better books. With its too pat Hallmark sweet happy ending, Home Before Dark is very much like the script of a very average feel-good drama from that sap channel.

But hey, if Kristin Hannah can become successful writing very pedestrian and formulaic women's fiction, I guess there's no reason why Susan Wiggs can't do the same. Good for her, really, and I hope she buys a nice dress when the money comes in. But as a reader though, I can't help feeling disappointed that an author who has written some well-crafted and original stories when she is still a struggling midlist author will churn out such dull and unimaginative stories when she's on her way to the big time. Why must success and innovation be mutually exclusive?

Rating: 65

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