Warner Forever, $5.99, ISBN 0-446-61437-8
Historical Romance, 2004
I’m used to receiving feedback from people who insist that I surely must not have read the same book they read because they cannot or will not understand why I think that way about the said book. I have this feeling that I will receive the same feedback regarding Diane Perkins’s The Improper Wife. Just to check, I take a peek at some of the more credible review sites and wince when I see that those reviews will be a complete one-eighty from mine. Why? While these reviews call the hero honorable, I find him a tiresome whiny bore. While the reviews call the heroine intelligent, I find her an irritating creature who gets off from being a martyr. What they find a compelling tale of healing I find a banal, dumbed down attempt at psychology.
Simply put, this is the story about whiney bore Captain John Grayson finding a pregnant woman Maggie Delaney on his doorstop one day. Reluctantly putting a hold on his 24/7 pity party, he helps her deliver a kid and is shocked when she says that her husband is John Grayson. He is John Grayson so no, she can’t be his wife. What is going on here? The tangled knot becomes unravelled as the story progresses but I find instead a Gordian knot of vapid and tiresome psychology.
This is one of those stories where the heroine is one luminous saint filled with understanding even when John is treating her like crap. Oh, she can’t blame him! It’s her fault that he is married to her. Oh, how she wishes that she is a virgin so that she will be his first woman! Oh, how she wishes that she can have love (or she deserves it) but – oh! When it comes to deluding herself as to why people should treat her like crap, she is a veritable statue of bloody liberty. Yes, come to her, people, and wipe your dirty feet all over her. She’ll somehow come up with a reason as to why your feet being dirty is entirely her fault so she deserves the dirt on her back. When it comes to having healthy self-esteem however, she is very harsh on herself. Her secret is one that prolongs the story’s conflict unnecessarily, and this is one of those cases where sadistic martyr tendencies passed off as selfless virtue of romance heroines give me unnecessary headaches.
As for John, he is lucky that everyone in this book is so understanding where his crap is concerned. Oh god, does this man ever stop whining and thinking the worst of himself and the world around him? What a tedious bore. If he does the right thing by Maggie, he does it while protesting like a whiny baby. He’s completely dim as well. When his relative gives Maggie a generous amount of money early in the story, for example, he is puzzled as to why one would do such a thing to a homeless woman who had just given birth to a brat. I guess “human kindness” is a concept that is alien to his brain that is inebriated by pithy pity party. Also, his “torment” makes me laugh. It is bad enough that his “torment” arises from his having to marry a woman whom he impregnated after a drunken shagfest. You know, if he actually loves Rosa to bits, I may feel sorry for him and his constant whine fest. But instead, he is torn up because that stupid woman follows him into a war field (in a red dress, of all things) and then gets blown to bits by a canister. Cool. Any idiot who runs into a war field with her hands stretched out to her man while clad in a red dress that may as well come with a neon sign “Shoot me dead, somebody” – that idiot deserves what is coming, I’d say, but I guess that’s just me.
Ms Perkins is aware when John’s really being annoying, like jumping into every possible lousy conclusions (and trusting the bad guy) for the sake of yet another contrived “emotional conflict”, but I don’t know why she doesn’t rein her hero in. Instead, she has Maggie doing backflips and yoga-like acrobatic contortions to excuse John’s treatment of Maggie. The message seems to be that if the heroine is “inherently perfect”, she can change any wounded asshole as long as she endures and gives him the best sex ever (oh, and throw a kid at him, don’t forget that one).
Maybe that will work with me when I was a silly teenage girl convinced that there is something special in me that can miraculously change the world without any effort on my part, but my teenaged years have died, crushed to pieces by adulthood and all the growing-up I have to do to get there. I want some emotional conflict and relationship dynamics that go beyond the simplistic “woman endures and gets her man” concept. One thing I can agree on is that Ms Perkins can write. Her prose is clean and readable, sometimes even elegant. But unless she manages to provide a genuinely meaty conflict that addresses the relevant issues faced by her characters instead of throwing at me “she knows he is a good man, she knows” or “he saves her – so it’s true, he loves her!” cop-out resolutions, her fine writing is just pretty lace drapings covering worn-out furniture.