Fontana, £1.75, ISBN 0-00-616989-9
Contemporary Romance, 1983
I know, I’m a few days late with my TBR Review Challenge review again, but you have to understand. The theme is an author I’ve always wanted to catch up on, and I’m a big fan of… wait, let me look at the cover again, Lily Devoe, that’s right. Me, big fan. I spent the day before trying to photograph the book cover, since there is no image of it anywhere on DuckDuckDuckGo, and I even risked multiple invasions of privacy by checking Google Images just to be certain. My copy also has a signature, and while I can’t read it, I’m pretty sure it is Lily Tahou’s. So believe me when I say that I have always wanted to read For Love of a Stranger by… let’s just move on.
It’s the 1980s, a time when good women play the piano while simultaneously riding a horse and dancing the ballet, and good men are millionaires – one million dollars are worth a lot back then – who sport mullets, mustaches, and a bear rug on both their chests and backs.
Meet Clarissa Tyler.
Clarissa’s no ordinary beauty – that it really did call for adjectives like incredible and stunning. Clarissa was tall, but a better word to describe her was long. She had long, strong legs; a long, narrow torso; a long, delicate neck; a long, oval face. When she walked, her stride was long, and when she gestured with her long arms, her long fingers seemed to reach halfway across the room. But for all her length, there was nothing gawky about her, nothing awkward. She moved like a dancer, with liquid motions that could mesmerize a watcher – and often did.
The whole thing goes on and on for two more pages, but I’m sure you get the drift. Oh, and our heroine is a “natural” at – let me double check to make sure I don’t miss anything – skiing, horse-riding, tennis, swimming, sailing, and painting. With that last one, I bet it’s not walls we are talking about here, but the second coming of Picasso minus the insanity. The only flaw of hers is designed to make her look like a perfect woman who just happens to be the victim of cruel fate: she is involved in a custody battle.
Meet Sean Howard. Imagine the above excerpt for Clarissa, only with more penis: he’s tall, fair, blond and wears a “doublebreasted suit, a dark blue Ralph Lauren shirt, a dark blue knit tie and dark brown handmade loafers with tassels”. But is he wearing lacy nighties underneath that all? Nobody will ever know, because the bedroom door shuts on everyone in this story. He is a self-made man who started his own real estate ventures without using his parents’ wealth, and oh, he’s married to Susannah, a middling actress who is stuck in a wheelchair after the car Sean drove sent her to Crippleville while he is left without even a scratch anywhere. Don’t worry, I’m told the marriage was already on the rocks even before his driving robbed her of her ability to move her legs, so way to go, Sean, that’s how a real man gets rid of the ball and chain. Wait, that’s not it?
Sean falls in love with Clarissa at first sight, when she makes him realize that she’s as hot as a Playboy bunny, only… hotter. When she sustains injuries after bravely rescuing kids from a burning building, his love is cemented. This one may have some burns here and there, but she’s still hot plus she can use her legs to do the sexy windmill tango. There is no contest, and fortunately, Susannah is alright with her husband falling in love, as she’s too busy popping pills and wallowing in depression. Not that Sean seems to care much – occasionally he’s like, “You okay, darling?” for a bit before going back to mooning over how Clarissa is everything he has ever wanted in a woman. Mind you, I want Clarissa too, as looking at her adjectives, she’d be a pro in doing housework, so I don’t blame him.
For Love of a Stranger is quite a bizarre hybrid by today’s standards. It’s a hybrid of glitz-lit stories that were so big back in those days, but the core romance is idealistic and familiar even to this day. The only problem here is that Clarissa is a very bland heroine – it’s hard to care for someone whose life is already 99.9% perfect and is about to be 100% so by the last page – and Sean’s behavior is often selfish and self-absorbed in nature. His treatment of his wife is also cringe-inducing at times because he’s so… callous. Susannah correctly pegs his “devotion” to her as one borne of guilt, but his devotion is half-assed in nature, so he can take his guilt and choke on it.
The most interesting character is the tragic Susannah, who despite everything manages to hold her own very well in this story. It helps that the author doesn’t go the easy route and turn this character into a screeching, mad wife locked away in the attic, but at the same time, it’s frustrating to follow this more well-drawn character as she will always be second fiddle to the bland and personality-free Clarissa. I like that these women get along well, but cringe when Susannah, like everyone else in this story, can only sing praises of Clarissa’s awesomeness after knowing her. Even Susannah’s mother is like, ooh, Clarissa is fantastic, and it’s clear why Sean wants to tap that. Oh give me a break – Clarissa becomes an obnoxious character after a while because everyone in this story is shoving her perfection down my throat and then down some more.
Oh yes, another thing I like about this story – there is something about the opulent narrative style that appeals to me. The author has a poetic way of setting up the romantic scenes, so much so that even if I have so many eye rolls to give to Sean and Clarissa, a number of their scenes make me hold my breath without me realizing it. Those scenes are so… I wouldn’t say loving or dramatic, it’s more like those scenes are just beautiful to read, if I am making sense here. The author’s phraseology can glow radioactive purple at times, but I find that there is a lyrical, thematic grace to the whole thing. See the excerpt above and the way the author shows me how “long” Clarissa is – I find that there is a soothing, hypnotic cadence to the way the words are arranged in the author’s sentences. There is one scene where these two just reach out and hold hands. It sounds hokey and even corny when I describe it, but the way that scene is written makes me smile wistfully and inhale a little deeper after every word.
Do I recommend this one, if you can find it? Well… I probably shouldn’t. The story is pretty average mostly because the hero and the heroine are blandly perfect, and if you end up being on Susannah’s team, you’re in for at the very least a deep steadying breath – the author’s narrative can be such that, despite how hokey things can be here, you sometimes find that certain characters have moved into your heart without you realizing it, until your heart begins to crack into pieces. Given that this book probably sells for a few cents at a used bookstore these days, though, I suppose there is nothing much to lose in giving this one a try.
Boy, am I so glad that I’ve finally read something by my favorite author Lily Devine… wait, Denny? Dewey? Never mind.