Dell, $6.50, ISBN 0-440-23510-3
Contemporary Romance, 2000
Alina Adams’s When a Man Loves a Woman has me thinking of that male banshee Michael Bolton screeching his head off to hit a high note. Eeeurgh.
James Elliot and Deborah Brody are best friends. Can a man be best friend with a woman? Not in this book. James has been carrying a torch for Deborah, or Brody as he calls her, for years. Deborah, however, is married to Max, who loves her enough to stand by her through her long shifts and closer-than-close friendship with James that has tongues wagging. When Max dies of a heart attack, Deborah starts flaying herself out of guilt, and in a comfort gesture gone awry, James end up in bed with her.
The forbidden has happened, and now these two would have to face the consequences the morning after.
When a Man Loves a Woman is an unsentimental story of love, healing, and friendship that moves me to tears more than once. It is also amazing in its realistic portrayal of a woman tearing up in guilt. Deborah has taken her husband as well as James for granted, and now that Max is gone, she sees how selfish she has been and start flaying herself in guilt. How she slowly comes to terms with herself makes wonderful and uplifting reading.
And James, dear selfless, noble James. That man is a wonderful man.
And in between romanticized accounts of doctors saving lives and unsentimental takes on the long grueling hours and mental stress they face (a contradiction, but it makes wonderful irony), James and Deborah face questions about their relationships and how they finally find happiness is simply an amazingly moving read.
But I do have a quibble. The author does a lot to let me into James’s psyche, but surprisingly, many of Deborah’s feelings and motivations are told rather than shown to me. As a result, she maintains a distance from me, and I never can actually connect to her to understand her motivations. Hence when the big misunderstanding comes at around the second half of the book, my instinctive reaction is to side with James and think of Deborah as an irrational, selfish whiner. She isn’t, but if I am allowed more access into her thoughts and motivations, the why she thinks that instead of what she is thinking, I may appreciate the big argument better.
But no matter. When a Man Loves a Woman is the story of two noble, intelligent, and wonderful soul-mates who truly deserve their happy ending. Who says doctors can’t be good lovers? In this story, doctors rule. In a time when contemporary romances seem to be nothing more than cowboy-sheriff-protects-city-girl-bent-on-beating-the-biological-clock fluff, to read a story with real emotional conflicts with real characters from an author who doesn’t take the easy way out with predictable characterizations is indeed a wonderful pleasure to be savored.