This is a rant, please feel free to skip it.
A while back, over a year ago I think, Harlequin started a new line of books called NeXt. It was supposed to be more like relationship novels and less like romance. I am a sucker, I will try and read almost any kind of fiction.
What is really was – taken all together – was a collection of books that should have been subtitled “Competent Women need not apply.” Instead of being about “what comes next (no fancy strange lettering needed), story after story unfolded about women who just did not have their acts together; who bad things happened to while they blundered around; and let us not forget all those who whined while putting more effort into their girlfriends than their families.
I had to stop for a moment and really examine why I reacted so negatively. I came up with several of my own conclusions. I decided that I really believe that some fiction should emulate life. And life, as I know it, is filled with hard working, courageous women who have made various choices in their lives. And they deal with the consequences. They don’t cry when life does not emulate soap operas or romance novels and wring their hands while waiting for someone else to solve their problems. They work, take care of their children, do their best with their households. They might have spent time being a full time parent, but when war made them a widow, they stayed alive for their children even if it meant taking a job and child care for babies. Today is not the 1960s where there were few choices for women who were on their own with children, whether from divorce or loss of a partner.
And here was a whole series that really featured woman after incompetent woman (with or without girlfriends) a la the 1960s. The occasional exception did apply, but really. I gave up after the first few months. Even horrid anticipation can’t keep you going to see if this next book (ouch) is worse than the previous.
It seems like other readers might have felt the same way as four books a month has dwindled to two.
Why am I bringing all of this up?
Jeanne Ray wrote a fun, lovely little book called Romeo and Julie or was it Julie and Romeo? In any case it chronicled the story of two rival families in the florist business with the two protagonists finally getting together in late middle age. When another book of hers called Eat Cake showed up on AudioBookstand’s sale shelf, I bought it. Books go to the sale shelf under two circumstances; they age, or they don’t sell.
I was expecting ….. actually, I am not sure what I was expecting. But it wasn’t a story told from the main characters empty headed point of view while she stood around wringing her hands. At seven hours on CD, that is an awful lot of whining and navel gazing – if you can stand to listen to someone natter for paragraphs about whether or not it is ok to put limits on her 16 year-old daughter (little stuff like setting the table).
Certainly, I was not expecting a novel about a woman who spent more time being unhappy and panicked than looking for solutions. And one so worried about offending everyone else that she needed a sweatshirt labeled “doormat.”
There is no question that life can kick us in the death. Bad things happen to wonderful people. I guess that success in the face of adversity doesn’t meet the current criteria in American fiction for challenging relationships between the characters much less growth of the protagonist by the end of the book. Perhaps the author uses the beliefs and attitudes of the 60s just because she was a parent then?
The book is not all bad. It is also warm and fluffy with the good people having things work out in the end. But with all the bad that happens, I never get the feeling the main character is grounded in reality. Perhaps it is that “click your heels three times” that brings around two aged and battling parents, and a spoiled teen ager. The husband’s unemployment is never resolved.
Not all doors are fancy, some your just pass through on your way upstairs to work.