Zebra, $5.99, ISBN 0-8217-7406-9
Contemporary Romance, 2003
What a tease. For the first ten or so pages, I’m halfway in love with the hero Eric Stewart. A self-made fellow that made his fortune in garbage disposal, he spends his free time making “art sculptures” out of rubbish while cleaning up his dismal underachieving sisters’ messes and sleeping with the wrong women. What charms me though is how this man maintains his often politically incorrect yet infectious good-natured joie de vivre in life.
Then the heroine shows up.
Then the stupid things begin to pile up.
What happens is that Eric’s sisters (one hopelessly codependent and spineless, one an astrology-freak, and another is a somewhat sane sister) get together and decide that they just cannot live one day more seeing their brother single and jolly. No, Eric must get married! Why? I don’t know. Must be a Sisters of the Corn thing. And their plan is this: they will match up Eric to sister Karen’s long-lost-now-found-again friend Tessa McBride and to do this, they will buy Eric a membership at Synchronicity, the dating and matchmaking agency Tessa works at! They just assume that Eric will resist the gift and make a nuisance of himself with Tessa. How this will endear him to Tessa is beyond me, but hey, I guess even twits have to start somewhere, may as well be from the rock bottom.
They have no idea that Eric and Tessa had sex a long time ago when she was eighteen and sexually dysfunctional, and they parted on unfriendly terms. This lovely bit of history between them will compel both to behave in various degrees of asinine.
Eric hates the gift. He wants a refund for his sisters. But Tessa refuses to give him a refund, and so this man, who’s worth one and a half million dollars on paper, cannot just write this gift off and buy the sisters a nice present for their birthdays. No, he will go on dates and then act so badly that the dates will all complain and Synchronicity will have to refund him. (I’m sure it’s in any decent Term of Service that if Eric behaves this way, they can easily cut him off without a refund, but hey, I’m not the author clutching at straws at the bottom of the barrel here.) If I factor in the fact that Eric is forty, I am starting to feel a headache coming on.
Tessa is a most unlikable heroine. She is always bitching in a caustic manner, but she doesn’t have the decency to bitch with style, wit, or humor. It’s just bitch, bitch, bitch. Everything that comes out of her mouth is a litany of complains or whines. As a result, I don’t know what on earth Eric sees in this woman. It doesn’t help that the author, instead of trying to flesh out the relationship, adds in a lot of noise. Karen, the professional victim, keeps getting victimized until her abusive almost ex-husband dies and she goes nuts in her hair salon job. Karen may be interesting if her story is developed better, but as it is, she’s a horribly idiotic creature often too spineless and passive for me to waste any sympathy over. There’s also an underdeveloped subplot where the sole sane sister, Sophie, is in love with Eric’s dimbulb buddy Rocky but Rocky is too dense to see it. The other sister, Anna, isn’t aware that her over-the-top antics like acting most ridiculously over astrology is driving her husband nuts. Again, a barely developed subplot. Also present in embryonic subplot stage is Tessa’s boss Clara and her impending divorce with a husband so obnoxious that I’m hard pressed to even feel sorry for Clara.
That’s the biggest problem with Straight to the Heart. It’s very loud because there are so many characters and most of them are behaving in very outlandishly stupid ways. It is hard to imagine any sane person doing half the convoluted things these people do in the story. At the same time, with Tessa acting like a PMS monster, the utter whackjob Anna just begging to be put down and out of her misery, and the utterly useless and spineless Karen making me itch to slap some sense into her, the author is doing a very good job making me hate every single woman in this story – maybe Sophie being the exception here – instead of making me care for their predicaments. And in the meantime, I start out liking Eric and I end up wishing he will just go far, far away and take the horrible women along with him.