Pocket, $7.99, ISBN 0-7434-5437-5
Contemporary Romance, 2004
For a long time, Joan Johnston’s The Price is an enjoyable trashy soap opera. Then the author plugs in the irritating double standards – women that putting their career at the top of their list of priorities are evil while women that care about children and marriage more than career are good – until the whole ridiculous nonsense spills out to stink up the room like the broken toilet bowl that this book is. Let me try and explain how a book that I am enjoying intensely can fall flat on its face towards the end. There will be spoilers in this review so turn back now if you don’t want to be spoiled.
Even if you sincerely believe that women should place more importance on home and kids instead of having a career, be warned that this one is a soap opera rather than a credible romance. The main characters come out of the central casting sessions that Jerry Springer held for the spicier episodes of his show. The latest in the author’s thoroughly convoluted series of feuding Texan inbreds, this book has the hero Luke Creed being a divorced single daddy with two kids as well as the father of a son he had with his brother’s wife. This is just the latest of a series of bewildering sexual shenanigans taking place: Luke’s mother was pregnant with her husband’s kid when she fell in love with Luke’s stepfather, for example. Or that every male in the family seem to have an illegitimate kid with somebody else. The women, of course, are chaste and homely. They only give their virginities to their one and only and then go off and marry abusive jerks for the wail of tears melodrama, before coming back to marry their one and only.
Luke hates what the feud did to his family, so he is not willing to accept the fact that the feud is over (everyone has married or impregnated everyone else – there’s no more reason to fight). While juggling between his family blues, he is trying very hard to make partner at his law firm. His make-or-break case is to defend a pharmaceutical company accused of selling drugs that result in the deaths of several children. At the opposing side is Amy Hazeltine, his old girlfriend who ran off and married an older (and of course nasty) man after giving Luke her virginity – you probably know at least six thousand romance heroines that have the same story as her, I’m sure. Can Luke decide whether to honor his love or have a career? Who cares – Ms Johnston is a firm believer in letting heroes have everything, so in the end the Evil Career-Oriented Sex-Loving Slut Boss of Luke takes the fall for everything and Luke gets his lover girl and career.
Every character in this book is straight out of a right-wing family pamphlet. Amy is all “What about the children? And my mommy that needs my caregiving selflessness 24/7?” Luke’s female colleague dares to have an affair with a colleague and is turned into a Boo-Boo of the Sexually Active Females morality soapbox when she contemplates abortion. Grayson Coates, the boss, is depicted as a man-hungry slut with no principles. Strangely enough, the author has a blind spot where the men in her story are concerned: Luke contemplates sleeping with his boss to make the ranks in one page while castigating Nicki for actually doing the same a few pages later, for example.
Before the double-standards in this story come to a boil and ruin the story for me, I have a great time reading about the sexual shenanigans between the Slut Boss and Luke’s buddy, a much younger man, as well as the author’s third-grade tabloid-like Reader’s Digest handling of the drug test issue in her story. Don’t expect legitimate courtroom dealings here, by the way. Luke’s daughter is on the same drugs produced by the company he is defending, for example, but nobody seems concerned that Luke has a conflict of interest here.
But in the end, it is hard to enjoy the sexual shenanigans and trashy soap operatic twists and turns of the story when the conclusion only drives home the tedious and antiquated messages of women taking care of the kids and letting men run their lives being the way of life that a “good” woman should take to heart and adhere to. Drew, the yummy younger man that is in love with Grayson Coates, ends up leaving her for his own book, coming up next, where he, now an “I Don’t Trust Women” idiot thanks to his treacherous Mrs Robinson, will no doubt hook up with some younger woman all about the kiddies and hubbies.
I don’t know whether Joan Johnston honestly believes in the very conservative right-wing principles she is laying very thick in this story or she is just canny enough to write for the said reader demographics. I do know though that by enforcing a double standard where Ms Johnston lets her male characters gleefully commit with unrestrained sense of self-entitlement the very things that she castigates and punishes her female characters for doing, the author ends up insulting the intelligence of any reader that doesn’t share the same view of inequality that she is yammering about in her book. The least the author could do is to preach in a less stereotypical, unoriginal, and insipid manner.