St Martin’s Press, $6.99, ISBN 0-312-97894-4
Contemporary Romance, 2001
Don’t be fooled by the happy-fun sunny cover. All four stories inside are seething with dysfunctional codependency. Worse, something tells me the dysfunctional stuff here are a result of shoddy plotting rather than deliberate, thought-provoking attempts at portrayal of human nature. Ergo, this anthology is an accident waiting to happen with progressive-thinking feminists. Let me explain.
Rochelle Alers, who must be the now the First Lady of Obligatory Old Geezer Romances when it comes to St Martin’s Press anthologies, offers Stand-in Bride, a disturbing story about Electra complex. I mean, our hero Gerald Barnett actually insists that his thirty-year old daughter Lisa give him a report on what she did in some Easter holiday with a French guy (the most important question, apparently, being “Did you do the deed with him?”) – isn’t that disturbing?
Lisa is marrying the French guy Sebastien, and our Gerald hires our heroine Katherine Langdon, a professional wedding planner, to organize the wedding. Gerald and Kath spark, and do the deed, but – get this – Gerald’s having to choose between Kath and Lisa throw a large wrench into their budding relationship.
This is the typical rich-and-perfect people romance Ms Alers make a career out of. It’s readable, pleasant, and would be okay were not for the fact that nobody female in this story can get along, and everything wrong with Lisa is blamed on Gerald’s ex-wife’s bad parenting skill and not his. Daddy rules. DaddyNMe4eva! Let’s all marry our Daddies.
Next, Gwynne Forster’s Learning to Love, a seriously disturbing celebration of African xenophobia. Our Nigerian tribal prince hero Prof Adjenko “Jon” Kuti not only thinks a woman’s lot is to shut up and lie under a man, he can’t stand anything un-African to the point of jingoism. Our heroine, enlightened American UN cultural expert Sharon Braxton asks him to help her in some cultural enlightenment program she is involved in, and naturally, Jon turns her down because she is woman and she is American. I’m glad she’s black – I hate to see the bloodbath if Jon is approached by a white American woman.
Needless to say, our heroine is enthralled by such Neanderthal behavior, and they have a happy relationship, she screaming “Jon! Jon! Oh, how I love you!” even as he wonders how to hide the fact that he is boinking an American and hence Unworthy Woman from his father and the rest of his pure-blooded tribal members. (Memo to Jon: Inbreeding can be deleterious to your tribe’s well-being, so please don’t even think about it.) And despite being a Prof – maybe he threatened the Dean with a tribal sacrificial blade for the title? – Jon is a dim-wit.
I mean, what sort of smartypants will actually ask a woman before sex, “Do you want me to use a condom?” Hello, it’s 2001. What does want her to say? “Oh, darling, impregnate me with your super pure-blooded Nigerian sperm, make me a single mother so that I will spend the rest of my life being a statistic!”? Then again, Jon probably thinks all birth control are filthy devices for promiscuity among American harlots, so who knows.
At the end of the day, our enlightened heroine make lots of excuses for our hero, embraces 1800’s patriarchy as the True Way of African Life, and live happily ever after. I need to lie down.
Donna Hill’s Distant Lover isn’t as bad as Gwynne Forster’s work when it comes to celebration of xenophobia, but the hero is a chauvinist, xenophobic pig, make no mistake. Mia is on a business/pleasure trip to Barbados, where she is to purchase a piece of land belonging to hero Vincent’s family. The land, however, is holy to Vincent’s family, and he will not sell. But he will, however, string her along, sleep with her, and let his family humiliate this American and hence presumably inferior woman. Mind you, Vincent may have screwed over half the women on the island, but when it comes to his wife, he still wants a Pure Woman. Someone get him out of my sight before I shove this baseball bat up his – uhm, moving on.
The author never lets Vincent grovel – maybe Barbados macho hung guys don’t grovel, it’s not manly, you know – he just sweeps the angry Mia to bed with hot promises of pleeeashhhuurrree and luuurrrve until Mia forgets why she is even angry in the first place. Nice, but since he doesn’t show genuine remorse (I am skeptical about things said in the heat of passion, so half the mawkish “Ooh baby, yeah baby” talk in the bed scenes I discount entirely), and his family is the board members of Xenophobia, Inc, I give Mia two more weeks before she either have a nervous breakdown or gets a drinking problem.
Francis Ray’s Southern Comfort is a big relief. It’s still a pretty dysfunctional love story, between chauvinist pig Vincent Maxwell and push-me-around-I’m-easy Charlotte Duval. One’s a Best Man and one’s an eighth-time Maid of Honor (guess which is which). When they first meet, Vincent immediately harps on Charlotte – her dress is too slutty (but he likes anyway), her opinions are too modern (what year is this again?), she speaks her mind too much (breathe… must not lose temper… breathe…), and more. They start bickering like kids all the way until they make love, and then it’s koochie-poochie lurvy snuggle-bunnies time until they decide to get married.
Nothing is mentioned about Vincent’s pig behavior. I guess Charlotte is okay with that, and I guess I’m supposed to be too. Too bad, I can’t. Vincent, eat rolling pin, a-hole. But of all four, this novella is the best, because these two behave like kids, and kids can be excused if they come off stupid because they are, well, kids and kids can learn.
Going to the Chapel looks fun, but beware – it’s a throwback to the dark ages when women are supposed to be silent and submissive. There’s everything for every conceivable type of shrink around. Now that’s democracy.