Pocket, $6.99, ISBN 0-7434-7089-3
Contemporary Romance, 2005
Lisa Cach’s debut mainstream contemporary romance Have Glass Slippers, Will Travel (that is, if I don’t count her Red Dress Ink book Dating Without Novocaine) starts out very interesting with an interesting heroine that won’t appeal to many readers but eventually this book sends out so many mixed messages that it confuses me.
Kathy Orville is one of the Internet-boomer generation yuppies who have been retrenched from their jobs when the dot com bubble burst. After watching one Oprah episode too many, Kathy believes that Oprah would really want her to follow her heart and make her dreams come true. With that, Kathy decides to head over to the Great Britain to marry a prince to get her fairytale princess life. Instead, she gets William Richard Eland, a rugged handyman type who also happens to be the Duke of Marreton. Kathy doesn’t know that the man she is attracted to is a Duke and she tries to cast her net on Will’s slimy cousin instead. Will true love sort itself out at the end of the day?
I know, I know. What kind of dingbat will believe that Great Britain – the land of Princess Diana Is an anorexic witch whose big-eared ugly husband cheated on her with a married woman who looked like a horse, while her own ex-boyfriend (rumored to be the father of her second son) co-wrote a tell-all book In lurid purple prose – will offer a fairy tale marriage? Something is very wrong in the transmission of brainwaves between the synapses of Kathy Orville. But Ms Cach manages to make Kathy’s willingness to abandon a life she knows to chase an elusive dream work very well with me. It’s all in the whimsical things Ms Cach put into Kathy’s personality, from her dreams of Ioan Gruffudd in underwear to Oprah as the queen holding court in Kathy’s imagination, that gives Kathy an air of irrepressible wistfulness, like someone who has never stopped daydreaming and believing that dreams would come true. I’ve been like that once, and I find it very easy to sympathize with Kathy.
Kathy’s misadventures in England is pretty stereotypical in the sense that I feel that I have read them before in other books featuring American fish out of British water but they are nonetheless infectious adventures that I find myself chuckling too. I am however not fond of Will at all, who seems like a ridiculously judgmental creature who wants a hot babe girlfriend that doesn’t want him for his money. Apart from his looks, I don’t see anything in his personality to make him such a great catch for any woman. Of course, for this story to work, Kathy has to be blind to her Mr Right until nearly the last moment or there won’t be a story at all. Many readers will call Kathy a selfless twit but I feel that her behavior is right in character with someone who is so in love with a dream that she dropped everything in her life to pursue it. If Kathy gives up on her dreams ten pages into meeting Will and decides that she’d rather be the wife of a mere organic farmer, I will think of her as some fickle twit.
I don’t know if Ms Cach is trying too hard to second-guess me in her attempt to make me like Kathy, but as the story progresses, she seems to be trying very hard to let me know that Kathy is wrong. But is she? Ms Cach has Kathy showing remorse when she turns the tides on some Mean Girl types that are very nasty to her, but at the same time it’s clear that I should be feeling that those Mean Girls deserve every humiliation that they receive. So here’s the thing: why should I appreciate how sorry Kathy is when at the same time I’m supposed to feel some vicarious petty pleasure at the way Kathy humiliates them? Ms Cach amps up Kathy’s guilt at playing along with the misconception that she is some rich American heiress socialite but at the same time I honestly do not see anything wrong in what she is doing. Her actions harm no one and I’m told often that those rich people she is fooling are shallow and obsessed with their superficial pleasures, so I don’t know how am I supposed to react to Kathy’s increasingly hysterical self-flagellation. Will overreacts and treats Kathy quite badly once her deception is blown, but Ms Cach correctly has Will getting the scolding he deserves for being a selfish twit who makes a martyr out of himself in the name of pride. Yet at the same time Kathy also blames herself for the whole masquerade that she plays along with. By the last page of the book, I get this message that Kathy is so, so wrong for lying and chasing after superficial things in a hubby like wealth and title, while Will learns a lesson about how women wanting a husband with wealth aren’t being selfish but rather, practical. So which is which? At the end of the day, Kathy is wrong for wanting the things she wanted… but she is rewarded nonetheless with a husband who is almost everything she is looking for.
I am so confused by the last page that I honestly do not know what to think. Either Ms Cach is trying really hard to make sure that her story appeals to as many romance readers as possible or her editor has forced her to make some contradictory changes here and there to stop some readers from making the inevitable indignant squealings about how horrible it is for a woman to want a man who is loaded with money. Since there are such squealings taking place already, it’s clear that Ms Cach should have just stuck to one single course and stayed true with it to the last page when it comes to her depictions of her characters. If Kathy is wrong for lying, then let her be wrong and have her suffer the consequences of learning the “right” things before getting her happily ever after with a penniless doorman who happens to look like Ioan Gruffudd. If Kathy is right, then let her be right and give her the Prince Charming she is looking for, who happens to look like Ioan Gruffudd as well. Don’t keep changing courses from Kathy being right to Kathy being wrong to Kathy needing my sympathy to Kathy needing my scorn to who knows what else, because that gives me a headache and makes the author come off as a rather insecure person who’d sacrifice consistency in her story so that her characters will never offend a single soul that buys this book. That isn’t possible, a book being totally inoffensive, unless Ms Cach wants this book to be utterly devoid of character and passion at the same time. I’d rather be offended than be utterly confused by a book that tries to bend over backwards so hard to accommodate what it imagines my fragile sensibilities to be that it ends up crumpling upon itself.