Onyx, $6.99, ISBN 0-451-41146-3
Contemporary Fiction, 2004
I haven’t read anything by Diana Dempsey before, although I hear that her last two books lean more towards Jackie Collins-lite than straightforward contemporary romance. Too Close to the Sun is set in vineyard country, Napa Valley in California, and readers who are still watching A Walk in the Clouds may want to pick this one up. Do watch out for the heroine Gabriella DeLuca though. She’s a walking braindead. She nearly gives me a stroke. It is the vigorous non-stop slamming of this book against the wall that restores the circulation in my arms and lowers the rising blood pressure in my ventricles.
The story is simple, really. Max Winsted, the heir to Suncrest Vineyards, is running the vineyard to the ground with his inept business sense and profligate lifestyle. In an attempt to save the vineyard, the martriach Ava decides to sell the vineyard to Will Henly Jr. This puts Will at the other end of the battle line with Gabby, the daughter of the wine maker who is standing in for her father while the man recuperates from a weak heart.
This story is really frustrating because Gabby is everything ugly about a romance heroine. Her reason to oppose Will? Because she wants everything to remain the same. She thinks like a very slow thirteen-year old, from her absolutely stupid hanging to an ex-boyfriend whom she knows doesn’t love her to her complete absence of logic to the coup d’grace, her truly, horrifically ghastly backstabbing of Will in the denouement. It’s not even as if she’s playing the Delilah to Will’s Samson – her backstabbing arises from her latest bout of behaving cluelessly and acting before she thinks.
Her ideals of love seem to arise from a truly awful piece of writing in Teen Beat: it’s all about the man pampering her while she has the free rein to never think again and just act on stupid impulses. She has no common sense, no business sense, and recoils at Will’s actually rational business decisions because, see, everything must remain the same, it must! At the same time, she is easily swayed into Will’s school of thinking to the point that she parrots his words to others without truly understanding them. In short, she’s brainless. You have no idea how much pain I feel when Will keeps referring to Gabby as strong-willed and passionate. To be fair, I don’t think anyone in this book tries too hard to promote Gabby as intelligent. But I hate braindead heroines and they should all die from a slow and wasting disease, or at least shipped off to some sweatshop in Lower Manila. Gabby, therefore, must die.
Will is, on the other hand, a rather nice hero. He goes out of his way to often bring some sense into the visceral and utterly ridiculous Gabby. Any fool can see that he wants Suncrest to profit. But just because he tries to change the status quo, Gabby acts as if he’s some corporate scumbag out to destroy her world. At the same time she puts her trust in the villains. Well, at the end of the day Ms Dempsey gets her conflict but this comes at the price of Gabby coming off as a truly wretched heroine. Will is definitely too good for this imbecile.
If readers can overlook the plenty of contrived conflicts arising from Gabby’s inability to put some perspective into her hysterical viscera-overdrive mode, they may enjoy, er, something, I guess, from this book. For the life of me, I don’t know what Ms Dempsey is thinking when she creates an insulting character like Gabby, a complete throwback to the dinosaur days of romance novels when women are idiot fragile creatures who need constant coddling and guidance from their men. She knows that Gabby is an idiot, if the blistering set-downs Will give Gabby after her nth screw-up are anything to go by, which only increases my befuddlement. But in the end Ms Dempsey has Gabby in the right and has Will making all the concessions in the relationship. Gabby’s ridiculous inertia and her xenophobic resistance to change are now “loyalty”. He apologizes to her for fudging up some things in this story, things that any woman with at least one brain cell can deduce easily. In short, Will apologizes because he tries to treat Gabby like a grown-up, sensible woman and that is so wrong of him. Somehow the memo that explains why I should excuse Gabby for being an imbecile because she is a woman and hence by default is exempt from thinking with her brain, well, that memo must have passed by me. Maybe it goes past me straight into the trash can or something.
The only good thing I can say about this book is that I won’t mind seeing Will on The Apprentice. Heck, he may win the thing. But other than that, Too Close to the Sun is a heinous, painful read where overly-visceral behavior, lack of common sense, and a complete absence of thinking capabilities are passed off “virtuous feminine traits”. It is times like this that I wish I am some romance novel fairy godmother, where I can then flit into books like this one and, using a handbag filled with a brick, beat some sense into Gabby. Or, come to think of it, maybe I’ll just beat her senseless so that she can’t talk or act and annoy me anymore. I’m sure the latter is easier to achieve.