Berkley, $6.99, ISBN 0-4251-8065-4
Contemporary Romance, 2001
How interesting. A romance novel that actually has an adulterous relationship in its center, and even better, one that doesn’t exactly shy away from portraying the adulterers in a sometimes harsh, unsentimental way as well. It’s labelled “Romance” on the spine. Curious.
Not that I am debating the definition of “romance” – I’m not that anal. It’s just that this story catches me by surprise.
Adam Forrester is married to Julia but he is sleeping with Natalie Ferrenzo. Actually, all three go way back to 1978, when Adam and Natalie were still teenagers madly in love. Alas, Adam’s very rich and his marriage to fellow rich kid Julia Hammonds had been pretty much preordained since he was a kid. Adam’s attempt to defy his parents were met with a final ultimatum: the family owed Julia’s family lots of money, and without this marriage, the Hammonds will demand payment and the Forresters will go under.
Money or love?
“Go,” Natalie says tearfully. And so Adam goes. Ah, young love.
Cut to 1991. Natalie is now an editor of young adult books, who, despite the years after Adam left, has never had any decent (read: healthy) relationships with men at all. Except for maybe a few sleepovers, but they never make her feel like a woman the day Adam took her big V in the summer of ’79. And she also longs for babies of her own… awww. And of course, who can forget the more out-going best friend, yes? The cliché is complete.
No, not yet. She meets Adam. Adam and Julia have, naturally, a not-so-perfect marriage. Julia is cold, and she doesn’t seem to like kids at all. How horrifying. Even worse, they are barren, and of course, we all know whose fault this is. Not Adam, whom with Natalie’s fertile, eager ovaries, will make lots of cute chubby babies. Julia is not maternal – she is definitely doomed to a fate of unceremonious jilting by her husband.
But Julia has a trump card – her accident not-too-long-back confines her to a wheelchair, effectively chaining Adam to her in his sense of guilt and obligation. Nonetheless, Nat and Adam spark on the side. Yes, the clothes fall off. This is adultery all the way, so those who just can’t take it should just skip it.
But all is not lost in The Other Woman. It could have turned out an irritating preachy story about how women should be sweet and yearn for babies and put their men’s feelings about theirs or they will live their lives alone, without a man, and totally miserable. But at the same time, Patricia Kay gives Julia some semblance of character, as a spoiled rich girl who is lost, after the accident changes her life into one she cannot cope with. And if Adam seems like a cad to cheat on her, the author doesn’t shy away from addressing that. Adam’s character is not totally sympathetic. When he reflects that “he loves Julia, but not the way Julia loves him”, he is a bastard in my opinion.
The author, however, justifies this by portraying Natalie and Adam as soulmates, friends and lovers forever, et cetera. It works sometimes, as Nat and Adam share some rather gut wrenching moments in their illicit passion, and sometimes it doesn’t because Natalie is such a one-dimensional stereotype of the baby-loving, perfect mother, June Cleaver romance heroine. Compared to her, Julia is a more interesting character, but there’s no way Ms Kay will let Julia get off this story even with her dignity intact.
I have mixed feelings about Adam and Natalie, really. They can be the perfect examples of selfish lovers, yet at the same time, the author succeeds in showing me that they are human with flaws. The Other Woman tries to show these two doing the right thing, but like all incidents of adultery, someone has to get burned in the end. I could’ve liked this story more, but at the same time, the author also does herself a disfavor by making Natalie a flat, obvious foil to Julia’s “unfeminine” and hence “unworthy” traits. The result is I feel condescended upon, and if I’m a today’s working woman who chooses to postpone kids in the favor of career move, I’d most likely be feeling insulted by now.
Not a bad book, this, especially with its human characters that I can always appreciate. But at the same, this book has too much of the scent of Eau de Cliché to really rise above and deliver an emotional punch.