St Martin’s Press, $6.50, ISBN 0-312-97029-3
Mixed Genre Romance, 1999
I have no idea why the anthology is called Perfect Secrets – there’s no big or scary or even amusing secret, none at all! And the sad thing is, the only thing worth reading here is Judith O’ Brien’s wonderfully funny Across a Crowded Room. Everything else reads like something me and my girlfriends cook up in-between too many glasses of beer and way too loose a tongue, minus the raunchy humor.
Let’s start with Brenda Joyce’s When Dreams Won’t Die. A more apt title for this story is The Return of the Slimy Snake Oil Salesman. After a rather moving prologue about heroine Blair being abandoned to her grandmother by her own mother, twenty-one years later Blair is back in town, with a child that is conceived in a one-night stand between her and her now brother-in-law. The good guy is Matt, a nice policeman who books her for speeding and was once her childhood nemesis. The snake oil of a man is Jake, a scum who isn’t above taking advantage of a drunken Blair a decade ago – four days before his wedding to her sister Faith, mind you! – with only “You are wearing short shorts!” as his justification. Fair enough, but to have Blair to actually agonize over choosing between the Snake and the Good Guy – wham! The sound you hear is the door of the padded cell closing tight on that silly woman. Throw in a murder that is just too superficial a reading and I get a totally forgettable story.
Kathleen Kane’s The Return of Travis Dean features the same old big misunderstanding plot between reunited lovers. Travis left a pregnant Katie four years back on a business trip and never comes back until now. Too bad, too late – Katie has invented his death and has even had a tombstone for him in the local cemetery. I sit back and expect to read about a brainy, spunky woman, but alas, all I get is a woman who melts into the scum’s arms not too long after a token protest. If my hubby walks out on me for four years with no news, you can bet his welcoming reception will be full of pain, gore, and PG-13 violence – unless he get on his knees, apologize, and explain, maybe then I’ll think about forgiveness. Then there’s two really annoying hilly-billy ghosts trying to matchmake Travis and Katie again, and I actually wince each time they appear. They’re that irritating.
Delia Parr’s With Redemption is absolutely irredeemable (sorry, I couldn’t resist). Timid shy seamstress Sarah is an outcast in her village because everyone believes that she is her ex-fiance’s mistress. Instead of stabbing the odious man the next time he comes a-calling for sexual favors, she cuts her hair instead, hoping to look repulsive to Webster. Huh? In comes war hero Thomas, who spends the night in her cottage due to injuries. They’re compromised, so poor Sarah’s name is dragged through the mud again. Thomas will have to make amends but *gasp* will he or won’t he? Of course he will! The story’s about to end, silly! Sarah is such a total wimp I can’t help wishing Stephen King has collaborated with the author and has Sarah do a Carrie on the horrid villagers. Now that would definitely rekindle my interest in this story. But all in all, the story happens over just a few days. Am I to believe that Thomas and Sarah are utterly, totally in love while barely knowing a thing about each other?
I’ve saved the best for last, however. Judith O’ Brien’s story glows like a crystal pulsar surrounded by the other three stories. Her contribution is so witty, wonderful, and delightful that I forgive the other three stories for all the misery they’ve put me through. Poor Nicole Lovett. She has been waiting ages to get that main anchorwoman job at the All-Fishing Network. In the meantime she has to star in campy, disgraceful infomercials no other respectable TV folk would touch with a ten-foot pole. I especially love her description of the time she starred in a floss commercial, or the one where she plugged a kittie toilet. This story is in first person narration, so I’m allowed a glimpse into kooky, funny Nicole’s thoughts. What fun!
The big day comes when the star anchorwoman Brynn Swann leaves the station. Nicole and her colleagues celebrate, all believing that she has made it – at last! – but no. The job goes to Martha Cox, the star girl in Nicole’s high school who stole her fiance and made her life hell. Nicole is not amused, to say the least. Oh boy, wait until you read what she really thinks of Martha Cox and high school – it’s absolutely wicked!
Nicole plunges into panic when Martha ate a slice of fruitcake Nicole believes to be poisoned and then vanishes. Oh, has she unwittingly murdered that woman? Then a handsome, good looking man come sniffing around her personal space, and damn if she wasn’t sure that Christopher Quinn isn’t a cop trying to ferret out her secrets… What can I say? All ends well, and I have a lot of fun reading this novella. Pity it’s not a full length novel, and that I have to wade through three stories of below average quality to find this gem.