Zebra, $5.99, ISBN 0-8217-7408-5
Contemporary Romance, 2002
Look who’s trying to make a literary comeback! Judith Krantz, is that you?
No, wait, this is Jacquelyn Ross. Is this book a debut effort? If you think that those poor little daddy’s rich virgin gal stories of outdated “women’s fiction” stupid, wait until you read Playing by Heart. Every woman and man here is a conniving, slutty skank bottom feeder that victimizes and uses our poor, innocent, hapless heroines and she just stands there, tears falling freely, until our hero, who has long misjudged and misunderstood her character, finally sees her willingness to suffer as sign of her purity and innocence and loves her at long last. And for her, that is all she needs, his love, oh, his love, his pure love – PURE LOVE! – and yes, she is now happy. So so happy.
This book makes those 1980s soap opera look like masterpieces of human drama.
Julia Griffin is our artistic heroine who doesn’t believe that she is beautiful, she is shy, and she has inherited a great, fabulous place. The author then spends dozens and dozens of pages describing Julia and her friends’ make-up, beauty, clothes, holiday iternary, and other painful stuff until I snap, scream like a mad banshee, and run gladly to embrace an oncoming bus.
Our hero Kurt Weston is unbelievably rich, unbelievably handsome, and he is surrounded by mouldy skanks, so he has never met anyone so pure and guileless like Julia before. More pages of superlatives used and abused on expositions on clothes, cosmetics, jewelry, travelogue, and I lie down on a railway track and scream for an oncoming train to end my misery.
Then the lovemaking. So beautiful, so touching, so pure! It’s like watching a perverted forty-year old skanking a ten-year old he’d purchased from a Cambodian brothel. It’s so dazzling, this display of Purity Unbound, oh, oh, my angina, someone toss away my pills so that I can die and leave this painful existence of mine.
Poot! Guess who has a bun in her oven.
Poot! Guess who decides not to tell the father. (Her reason? She has family issues, and yes, Ms Ross has issues too. Bad plotting issues, to be exact.)
Poot! Guess who thinks she’s a gold-digger slut when he finds out and sees her kissing another man and assumes that her son is… oh, my head hurts like hell. Someone brain me into blissful unconsciousness, please I’m begging you.
Poot! Guess who just have sex – again – with no birth control. Burned once, shame on you, but playing with fire twice? Where’s that live grenade I can swallow? The pain, the pain!
Guess whose mother-in-law is a bitch. Guess who’s the jealous inamorata. Guess who’s the one popping down the pills (hint: me).
And don’t get me started about the dialogues in this story. Everyone talks as if they are living a Sweet Valley Skank High fantasy, a twilight zone where plasticized Barbies and Kens enact their juvenile dramas. It’s filled with painful misunderstandings and hilariously amateurish attempts at conflicts. Does anyone still use that “I overheard/saw and assumed wrong at once!” plot conflict devices anymore? Even bad soap operas have given that up for zombies, aliens, and biological weapons nowadays, if an everyday episode of Passions is anything to go by. Ms Ross, this is the present, come on, step right in, don’t be afraid.
Playing by Heart is like a whiff of nostalgia, the bad sort of nostalgia. Tacky, contrived, and brimming with lines and plot twists that just scream “Amateur plotter at work!”, it is best enjoyed when one has a powerful yearning for those passive, weak-willed rich heroines victimized crap by everybody stories. Everyone else, proceed with caution with radioactivity protection gear at hand. This is like the work of every failed soap-opera writer out there congealed into a terrifying and evil nightmare. You’ve been seriously warned, folks.