Onyx, $6.99, ISBN 0-451-41128-5
Contemporary Romance, 2004
If you enjoy early Linda Howard books and other stories where conflicts keep piling up for the sake of “understanding female suffering for love” melodrama, you’re in for a treat with Jerri Corgiat’s debut romance novel Sing Me Home. The grovel is, to me, inadequate, and boy, the hero is really a raging jerk. I predict that readers will either love or hate this book with very little in-between.
Jonathan Van Castle is the lead singer of the country rock band Van Castle. He is a familiar hero: he neglects his two children but he doesn’t really mean it unlike his really demonic ex-wife Belinda who’s not only a slut but also a drug addict that abuses the children. No doubt she also drowns puppies for fun after she’s ripped off their heads with her teeth. Jon has a very bad family background: drunken abusive father, a mother that killed herself, and it is very important that we all remember this so that we will always care and understand for the hero even when he’s stomping his boots on our backs until every bone in our bodies breaks out of love for such a wonderfully realistic man.
He falls in love with bookstore clerk Lil O’Malley Ryan, who doesn’t recognize him (ignorance is a virtue), after she agrees to be the nanny to his stereotypical Two Tormented Children in return for his aiding her family out of trouble. But along the way, Belinda causes evil troubles, Jon really treats Lil badly, and Lil… oh Lil. She marries Jon for the sake of the children and she wants him to quit music for the sake of the children. Nothing is about her, so she comes off like a puppy they named Enabler. Sing Me Home preaches a familiar small town romance doctrine: good women don’t really have much material needs, they live within a narrow sphere of motherhood and housewifery (maybe with some token “nice jobs” like teaching or tending stores thrown in as a concession to the twenty-first century), and they marry and live for the sake of selfless love, the husband, and the children.
To be fair, Jon and Lil’s conflicts don’t real as false as, say, the alpha jerk apologias published before 1990. It is very easy to imagine that there are problems faced by other couples that are similar to the ones Jon and Lil face here. But what is not well-done is Ms Corgiat’s treatment of these problems faced by her main characters. By making Belinda a raging psychopath cartoon character, Ms Corgiat is taking the very easy way out when it comes to characterization. Why bother in developing the main characters to win me over when all she can do is to push the evil Belinda at me and tell me that hey, see, it’s all Belinda’s fault, right?
A good drama should feature difficult conflicts that have the main characters behave in ways that I may not agree with. I don’t, in fact, demand that the characters behave and speak the way I want them to. All I ask is for the characters to be real instead of being some smalltown conservative value soapbox figurehead. But with Belinda being a cartoon villain and the main characters being merely one-dimensional foils to Belinda, Sing Me Home ends up coming off like a story that’s too focused on artificial tearjerker melodrama at the expense of realistic characters and plots.