Berkley, $6.99, ISBN 0-425-18884-1
Contemporary Romance, 2003
Kathryn Shay’s Trust in Me is about determined unhappy people who can’t get over themselves. While the problems these characters face are real, the author prefers to have her characters wallowing in non-stop reminiscences about the past or piling on the guilt when they should be working towards overcoming their problems. In short, the six main characters here just keep prolonging their misery in one vicious cycle. I soon wonder if the author is more intent on showing off her skills at melodrama rather than to tell a good story.
Meet the Outlaws, which is like Prozac Nation crossed with the Breakfast Club that never got off their detention.
“Hi, I’m Beth. My husband is dead. He died when race car champ Tucker Quaid did… something… that caused my husband Danny to crash and splat into a million pieces. My son hates Tucker. He blames Tucker for killing his daddy. My son is doing drugs, sex, the jolly fun stuff that get me all worried up, but do I care? I care, of course, but I also blame myself for killing my husband. See, if I haven’t shagged him when we were teenagers, he wouldn’t have fallen in with us Outlaws, he wouldn’t have married me, he wouldn’t have raced, and he wouldn’t have died! See, it’s all my fault. So every time I have to tell my son to get his act together, I can’t! Because everything is my fault. So I let my issues cloud my own judgments. I’m such a wonderful mother, huh?”
“Good morning. I am Tucker. I come here to make amends. Everything is my fault, after all. But I’ll let Beth do all the whining. Because it’s my fault and my guilt is driving me into a silent penance. Not that we actually have the brains to be discreet. When her son hears that her momma is shagging the man who killed his father, ho ho! But hey, we all need climaxes in the story, and I tell you, we sure aren’t getting the other kind of climax.”
“I’m Linc. I’m Beth’s brother and I’m a preacher. You’d expect me to be the sane one, huh, but no. See, I once had this girlie, Margo, and we had lots of fun teenage sex. Don’t worry God, we use protection. We broke up years – believe me, YEARS ago – when she didn’t believe in God while I am the vessel of Christ. But I’m still hot for her. How do you know? Can’t you tell? Every time when I’m not offering hackneyed advice to the other outlaws, I am dreaming, thinking, or getting horny remembering Margo and me shagging like bunnies! You wish your local deacon is this cool, huh? Oops, gotta go take some wink eye and dream of Margo naked.”
“Margo here. I’m a successful career lady living in town. Hey, somebody has to show the readers what a horrible life the city can bring, may as well be me. My boss is sexually harassing me. Um, that’s it. I also spend my solo time dreaming and yearning and moaning about Linc. You’d think that with the years passed, we would’ve gotten over each other, or at least, gotten a brain to reconnect again, perhaps? But that’s trauma porn for you: forget therapy, we’d rather whine!”
“Annie here. I’m the third girl in the reformed Outlaws. My husband beat the crap out of me when we were married. Now he’s back and reformed, or so he says as he shoves those papers to me. Now, if I don’t trust the man who trashed me bad, it’s probably okay that I keep my kids away from him, right? Wrong! See, it’s only fair that my kids know their abusive father whom I’m not too sure that he’s reformed, so I’ll just be a martyr and stand there with my eyes closed like Joan of Arc in the bonfire. Because it’s only right that I suffer for my kids. It’s only right. What else can I do? It’s the only right thing to do!”
“Joe here. I used to be married to Annie. I kicked her, punched her, slapped her around, you know, generally behaving like a lowlife disgrace and all. But now I’m reformed. And I’m determined to know my kids. You know, the reviewer likes me. She thinks that I’m the only multidimensional character who is doing something to overcome my problems. Too bad that the author doesn’t manage to convince me that Annie loves me back because she believes me and not because she enjoys being a martyr too much.”
Hello, me here. Let me interrupt the Outlaws’ whine fest to say that Ms Shay has really bungled up things in this book. These characters – except for Joe – are so mired in their problems but at the same time, they frustrate me because when they could act, they just stand there and indulge in a stupid flashback to when they were kids! Kids! These people are adults now – how far should we build the ladder before them so that they can get over themselves?
Repetitive whinings and melodramatic martyr-like behaviors turn Trust in Me into a painful read. Other than Joe who actually has the courage to overcome his demons, the other characters display an infinite endurance for BS – their own BS, especially – that they all disgust me after a while.
There is one scene that stays with me despite everything. It’s a scene of the six friends – one new friend, Tucker, replacing a friend dearly departed – getting ready for a good time out. The women laugh as they doll up, while the men could only put on stupid grins as they wear their hearts on their sleeves when the ladies walk out. It’s a nicely done scene – a brief moment of peace when these characters can be free of the author’s penchant for overdoing her trauma porn melodrama. In this moment, they seem so real. But alas, soon even that scene gives way to more trauma porn. Heck, this moment of happiness soon ends up another excuse for them to whip themselves over – guilty, guilty, guilty, forever condemned by their own fetish for martyrdom.
If only Joe had given his other friends the number for his shrink, this book will be only 200 pages long.