Onyx, $6.99, ISBN 0-451-41136-6
Contemporary Romance, 2004
Anna Jeffrey’s second romance novel The Love of a Stranger befuddles me. It doesn’t make any sense to me. The author is so focused on populating her story with nasty characters to provide conflict to the point that she fails to consider why her main characters don’t just move from Nastyville McSkankhollow here. All I can surmise is that the author is more interested in her characters posturing and showing the world how tortured and nobly suffering these twits are instead of actually letting some sensibility intrude into her story.
The hero and the heroine are two jaded townies that down in their luck. What do they do? Why, follow the Romance Novel Calling and flee to some small town (in this case, Callister, Idaho) to start life anew, of course! If people do this in real life, traffic problems in cities will be a non-issue.
Alex MacGregor, our heroine, is rusticating in her cabin in the mountains outside Callister to lick her wounds after her marriage crashed down around her. She is fighting off a predictably cartoonishly nasty log tycoon who wants to be allowed to move through Alex’s land to cut down some trees. You know how these heroines are. Save the environment! Mother Nature! Say no to eutrophication! Of course, it will help if Alex is actually shown to be zealously pro-nature in her every other action instead of merely paying lip service to the cause, but I’m probably expecting too much. Anyway, Alex is alone in her crusade against the big bad wolf as everyone else in Nastyville McSkankhollow will not join her in her fight.
In comes our hero, Doug Hawkins, an ex-cop who is wrongfully accused of all sorts of things that lead to his dismissal. He comes to Nastyville McSkankhollow to visit his friend Ted, only to score with the Slut Waitress on his first night in town. No wonder these men are always driving to small towns, I see. But Alex isn’t pleased to see Doug and Slut Waitress trying to sneak into her cabin for some nookie, especially when the Slut Waitress in question nookied Alex’s ex in the past, so she tears into them, literally hysterical with anger. Doug is impressed by this woman. What a courageous hottie! Never mind that his friend Ted is in love with Alex – what a hottie!
It is very hard to care for this story because everyone, except Ted and arguably Doug, is one-dimensionally hostile towards everybody else. Alex and Doug start off on a bad leg but their subsequent relationship sees Doug trying to figuratively hump her leg while she shrieks, hisses, and yells at him to get lost because she is done with men. There is no consistency in characterization, especially in Alex’s case because Alex is hot or cold to Doug with little rhyme or reason. Meanwhile, everyone in town behaves really badly towards Alex even as she keeps trying to martyr herself for them. I can’t help but to wonder why she is so insistent on living here in Nastyville McSkankhollow. The author tries to justify Alex and Doug’s tolerating the spineless, cowardly, and nasty people of that place by portraying LA as a den filled with vipers, sinners, and other jolly fun people, but Ms Jeffrey seems oblivious to the fact that her charming little small town is no better in comparison. If her characters hate LA so much, then by all means move, but dang it, they can move to a better smalltown that Nastyville McSkankhollow. Surely it isn’t the only small town in America if the author’s characters have such a fetish for apple pies and Confederate values?
Seriously, who cares about the pond? Sell that land and then report the villain to Greenpeace. Or make a big donation to WWF to soothe the conscience. When the problems in this book arise from characters needlessly suffering and fighting a thankless battle for unworthy losers when they could have easily move on and spare themselves a lot of trouble, this one has lost me from the start. Yes, small towns are good, the people there are the best, big towns suck, blah blah blah, but for the love of decent plots everywhere, the author should seriously sit down and think out her story a little more before writing another story like The Love of a Stranger.