Avon, $6.50, ISBN 0-380-80330-5
Historical Romance, 2000
I’m mean. I have no patience for whiny people. And call me jaded, but a romance in which 90% of the communication barriers are inflicted by each character’s feelings of low self-esteem, of which about 80% are due to the hero’s mulish pride and thick-headed self pity, isn’t exactly what I would term a romance to sigh over. And I have reached a point in my life where seeing our virtuous, patient heroine catering to our hero’s childish tantrums and making excuses for him only make me snort in derision.
Never Love a Cowboy, needless to say, isn’t what I would call an endearing romance.
I also don’t believe much in coincidences. This one relies on two coincidences to carry the story.
And one more thing. I hate it when a hero’s past involves reckless debauchery and I am expected to go, “Awww! So sad!” because his poor sad childhood, only to be hit in the head again and again with our heroine’s self-hate and self-flagellation because of her one single indiscretion in her past. I never believe a woman should suffer for something a man does the same freely and gets away with, and at this point in my life, I just plain dislike such double standards.
Hence, Never Love a Cowboy makes me grit my teeth in irritation.
Jessye Kane may be a sharp gun and tomboyish hoyden, but be rest assured she is all womanly at heart. Once, she succumbed to the charms of a rake and bears him a child after the man went AWOL. She gave the baby girl up to a rich and childless couple, and now tears up and go a-whoo-whoo-whoo-waaa whenever some child is in her vicinity. Normally I am sympathetic to such cases, but in this case, I can’t help getting the feeling that this is merely a plot contrivance to get her and hero Harrison Bainbridge boinking and then indulging in self-pity. Ergo, my derision.
Harrison Bainbridge too has a sad past. His mother, you see, is a nutcase who almost starved him to death in a cellar. Now he hates all women and the thought of Jessye giving up her baby draws collective gasps from him and – supposedly, I guess – from the reader. And he also believes he has no heart, he can’t be loved, etc etc etc. Shall I put on the muzak requiem on the player, Harry?
These two and Kit, the last man who would get his story next, go on a cattle drive together. Along the way, Harry and Jessye pout, pose artistically in their tormented self-pity, and like all predictable ho-hum Westerns, boink after the heroine sees our hero survives a close brush with death. Yes, nothing but Danger to make our heroine forget her initial protests of I’m not like other women. Join the club, Jessye – two thousand virtuous Western heroines and counting.
They end up in a big town where – get this – Jessye meets both her long-lost daughter and her bad ex. Harry chalks this to destiny. I chalk this to an overdose of TV Movie of the Week melodrama.
Jessye realizes what a bad egg she was to give up her child to such a wonderful, loving couple, so oh, so much pity teary scenes ensue, where, of course, Harry manfully comforts her with his strong masculine embraces. And also, Jessye realizes what a scum her ex Gerald is. But that doesn’t stop her from tearing up in self-loathing and guilt after shooting Gerald to save Harry. Remember, her ex is always scum, but our heroine can’t do anything bad like killing a man who wants to hurt her – oh, how horrifying, pass me my smelling salts! – without hating herself.
Just when these two are about to settle down, oh, Harry gets badly injured in the leg. He’s now a cripple, not man enough for Jessye! Where once he believes himself unworthy of Jessye because for some reason he can’t be loved, now he can’t be loved and he isn’t even man enough for love! Lots of predictable nastiness from him and tears from her ensue.
At this point I put down the book and go make myself a cup of tea. Never Love a Cowboy is pretty bad because it has lazy plotting and stereotypical characters that act all annoying and whiny. Harry’s “Can’t Love Me, Can’t Love You!” antics get really tedious fast, because I have no clear understanding to why he is such a dolt in the first two-thirds of the story, and when I finally do, it’s such an inane excuse for the melodrama he put both he and Jessye through.
And Jessye? I’ve lost count of how many times she keeps reiterating that oh, Harry is hardworking, Harry is wonderful, Harry is everything. Never mind that most of all this are hearsay, coming from Kit (not exactly a fount of impartiality, if I may add), or that most of the time Harry is acting churlish and surly. During Act Two: The Cripple and the Martyr, I lost patience with both her lousy Florence Nightingale rip-off act and Harry’s double-combo Crippled-and-Unworthy Get Lost Antics. Tea, anyone?
And more frustrating is that Never Love a Cowboy is well-written. Nothing like a combination of well-written prose and contrived characters to make me see red because of the wasted potential. What happened to the author who used to write such emotional romances? I miss that Lorraine Heath.