Kimani, $6.99, ISBN 978-0-373-09144-7
Contemporary Romance, 2014
Dim the Lights promises a “gateway to desire”, to “celebrate the thrill and excitement of finding passion in the most exotic and unexpected places”. Those exotic and unexpected places are Greek Island, Vail and Michigan, and Paris. I know, it’s so unexpected how expected the whole so-called unexpected expectation just exceeds everyone’s unexpected expectations! Needless to say, the “desire” thing is just as much an anticlimax. I’d peg the sensuality level to be somewhere between an IKEA assembly manual to “Grandma tries to write sexy” for the first two stories, while the third story acquits itself with some semblance of dignity.
Lindsay Evans presents Erica Cross and Nikolas Stephanides in Islands of Desire, which is a romance that happens on board a cruise ship. Erica comes off as unnecessarily surly and prickly – she’s another heroine on a vacation who has to be dragged into it by a more outgoing best friend – and Nikolas comes off like a caricature of an amorous skunk.
As she walked, she felt Nikolas’s presence behind her, heard his breath, felt it at the back of her neck.
“Stop following me so closely!” she snapped.
But he only chuckled and seemed to stand even closer to her, his body a distraction, a furnace that she longed to press her face and entire body against.
And this is just five minutes into their acquaintance. The rest of the story follows the same pattern. He looms and shows no concept of personal space, she hates it because she really likes it and she wants it so badly so OH MY GOD WHAT A JERK, OH BOINK ME ASSHOLE. Some other woman drama gets tossed in for some eye-rolling last minute conflict, and I’m supposed to believe that these two are in love. Well, if I close my eyes and wish really hard, I’d wake up clutching a bag full of hundred dollar bills too.
Velvet Carter’s Liquid Chocolate basically has chocolatier Mika Madison and Blaine Chess finally having sex after she’s been thinking about it for so long, but she keeps seeing him with another woman all day, all the time, and steam starts coming out of her nostrils and ears. This must be one of the longest short stories I’ve read – at least, it feels like I’ve been reading for years when I finally reach its last page – that is fueled solely by the heroine’s paranoia and how this paranoia makes her run around like a crazy woman armed with a drill. Special mention goes to her gay best friend, who is such a stereotype that I won’t be surprised if some people get offended – this gay guy exists solely to meddle in the heroine’s love life and make her happy, because really now, gay guys have nothing better to do with their lives than to be a heterosexual woman’s emotional tampon.
Theodora Taylor’s Her Wild and Sexy Nights would have been an enjoyable short story in any anthology if the author hadn’t blindly followed the formula to the bitter end. Janatha Simmons goes to Paris alone because her boyfriend of three years, a second-rate football player, dumped her for a busty blonde, and she’s the last to know about it (having to read about it in the tabloids). She meets Mick Attwater, who lets him believe that he is not a football player. He’s technically not lying. A British, he’s the nation’s top soccer player, if we want to follow the way Americans look at the world. The chemistry is great, the sex is explosive, and then out comes the truth abour Mick’s job.
The romance novel formula dictates that the heroine flounces and throws a big fuss about being lied to, et cetera. But in this context, such behavior makes no sense. She’s single, he’s single, so what’s the fuss? And come on now, she’s just been dumped by a jerk. If I were her, and I found that pictures of me looking like Rihanna and cavorting with one of the hottest sports celebrities in England splashed all over the front pages and on entertainment blogs, I’d personally frame every article and send them to the jerk. Dumped by a loser? Well, watch me hump and twerk a happy guy who is hotter and richer and more talented – see what you are missing, loser? This is the perfect kind of revenge.
So for Janatha to go on and on about being humiliated… what is she on and what is she babbling about? It’s not like they caught her snorting lines off his naked ass while he’s in a clown suit. And girlfriend, this is the age of sex tapes and nude Instagrams. If she is this much of a mess over some tabloid coverage, how is she going to deal with being a wife of a man like Mick? Maybe she and Mika would end up as room mates in the neighborhood loony bin a few months down the road.
Therefore, while this story has some of the finest chemistry and sensual sizzle around, it experiences a complete logic breakdown by the last page and has poor Janatha look like a baboon’s rear end.
Dim the Lights is right – even with the third story (which breaks down completely by the time it ends), it takes me to a dark and unhappy place.