Warner Forever, $5.99, ISBN 0-446-61277-4
Contemporary Romance, 2003
I must be a more horrid person than I expected, because instead of sympathizing with the heroine Joy Hudson’s problems, I personally want her sedated and I volunteer to administer the stun gun myself. Mystery and suspense author Erin Claire’s debut women’s fiction Long Time Coming is a mix of Gothic-like mystery with chick-lit themes of small town self-discovery. The fact that Warner markets this book as a romance probably proves that women’s fiction and contemporary romance may be intermingling much more than before. I like that – that means there will be more infusion of fresh storytelling styles into the contemporary romance subgenre. I do not, however, like this story.
Told from the heroine’s first-person point of view, this story is about thirty-five year old vet Dr Joy Hudson coming back to Wharton, Kentucky, to stick around and take care of her aging parents, especially her father that has recently suffered from a near-fatal heart attack. The ghosts from her past confront her earlier than she expects when the real estate agent shows her the house where her best friend Jenny once lived. Eighteen years ago, Jenny and her boyfriend Jeff Bradford were involved in a car accident. Jenny died while Jeff survived, and Joy blames him still for the death of her friend. The fact that Jeff is rumored to be drinking while drinking made matters worse.
Soon, Joy keeps bumping to Jeff. Worse, she starts hearing voices – giggles, even – and wonders if her house is haunted by Jenny’s ghosts. She also has some suppressed memories eighteen years ago that she is trying to unlock. Thus, this story tells of how Joy eventually learns what really happened to Jenny and then has to deal with the consequences of what she has learned.
The thing is, this book is really bad for my blood pressure. This is a case of where everyone, especially Jeff, knows everything but nobody will tell the heroine anything. Jeff wins my vote as the most irritating bloody fool of the year. Whenever Joy begs him to tell her the truth, he will clasp her cheeks or do something equally condescending and asks her most patronizingly to trust him and leave things alone. At one point late in the story, she screams at him, asking him why he can’t be honest with her. Yes, that’s me screaming too, wanting to know why. Meanwhile, call me heartless, but I think Joy needs psychiatric help. Her constant state of near-nervous breakdown seems blown way out of proportion, especially as Jenny’s death happened eighteen years ago. It can’t be healthy to act like this for so long. Why hasn’t someone put her on antidepressants already? Reading about her nerve-strung state as she pitifully begs Jeff to tell her something, anything that isn’t some patronizing “have faith in me, leave it alone” BS – I almost have a ruptured blood vessel in the brain trying to contain my exasperation with these characters.
Information drips slowly, agonizingly, and it’s not as if there’s any good reason why they can’t just talk. Jeff seems to enjoy playing the martyr way too much while with Joy, it’s a matter of time because she starts doing a Courtney Love on the neighbors. These people need psychiatric help, period. After close to four hundred pages of nerve-strung agonizing over that big secret, I find myself thinking that this secret has better be really good, like Joy remembering to check her parents’ fridge and find Jenny’s head hidden behind the cabbages. But when the secret is revealed, which is… let’s just say that it’s a secret that conveniently brings Joy and Jeff together. I shriek, “That’s it? That’s the freaking reason why these people take so long to talk?” and fling the book hard onto the table out of spite.
There’s a chair in the kitchen with one leg shorter than the rest. I seriously consider using this book to balance the chair, invite the biggest guy in the neighborhood to tea, and let him sit on that chair. That’s how annoyed I am with this book. Then I remember that the used book store won’t take this book if it’s damaged, so lucky book, it gets sent there instead, where it will hopefully find a reader whose blood pressure isn’t as volatile as mine.