by Susan Wiggs, historical (2003)
MIRA, $6.99, ISBN 1-55166-710-X
Susan Wiggs' latest historical, A Summer Affair, contains some of most powerfully written scenes of emotion and romantic expressions I've ever read in quite a long time. Unfortunately, a messy plot and the heroine's often perplexing character prevent me from giving this book my complete recommendation.
Theodore Bluett Calhoun or "Blue" is the son of the hero of The Horsemaster's Daughter all grown up. He is like post-civil-war San Franciso's very own Albert Schweitzer, a doctor that goes around healing the sick and the poor that cannot afford help anywhere else. He runs a hospice staffed by women he has saved from Very Horrible Lives. And when he's not healing and being a superhero with a medikit, he's brooding over memories of his late wife and pondering over his increasingly rebellious son Lucas. One day, a wounded woman holds Blue at gunpoint even as she desperately needs his help. This woman, Isabel Fish-Wooten, turns out to be a suspect in a recent shooting of a police officer. She says she is innocent. Oh, what to do, what to do, eh, Blue?
Isabel is actually not the British lady sort that she pretends to be. In fact, she's actually a nobody that grew up on the streets, but she's made a life for herself by reinventing herself into another person. In short, she's sometimes a con, sometimes a tough lady with a gun. But as she slowly becomes a part of the Calhoun clan, Isabel also confuses me. This is because Ms Wiggs often makes Isabel come off like a psychiatrist at times to Blue, prepping Blue up with chicken-soupy insights that sound really out-of-character coming from a hardened survivor from the streets. At the end of book, I still have no idea who Isabel is.
Blue is wonderfully heroic - his acts of selfless charity, in fact, makes him a hero in every sense of the word - but often I feel that the author overplays Blue's stubborn refusal to love. Too often Blue keeps the pity party going when all the guests have gotten fed up and left for livelier venues. However, when Blue finally caves in, the emotional pay-off is marvelous.
The plot is slow and often lacks direction. Is it supposed to be a romantic suspense story? Is it supposed to be a family story? A Summer Affair doesn't seem to know what it wants to be. I am also quite astonished that the rest of the Calhoun clan are so willing to accept Isabel, a stranger, when they really don't know anything about her. At times like this, this book comes really close to Mary Sue territory. And don't get me started on the teenybopper puppy love thing between Lucas and that Chinese girl June. Ms Wiggs, fifteen-year old kiddies declaring vows of love while heavy petting just isn't interesting enough for me to waste time reading about. Like I always said, let them grow up first before letting them hog the pages.
On the whole, A Summer Affair is a pretty unfocused and plodding tale. However, I find that there are quite many scenes in this book that are just really, really good. Some of Blue and Isabel's scenes take my breath away in their breathtaking romanticism, from the simple act of dancing to the grand declaration of love. Blue's scenes with Lucas also hit hard when it hurts, because Ms Wiggs can deftly weave an often bittersweet kind of realism in her scenes.
Because some of the scenes of this book stay with me long after I've finished the book, it would be appropriate, I guess, for me to give this book an accordingly high grade. But as a whole, A Summer Affair is often too uneven for its own good. I like this book, but I doubt this is a book to read if one wants a good story to go along with the mostly well-written characters.
This book at Amazon.com
This book at Amazon UK
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