Why do I do these things to myself?
I stopped reading Ms Anderson’s books years ago because, quite frankly, it got to the point where the preaching got on my nerves. Still, I have wonderful memories of some of her earlier works, particularly Annie’s Song, so when I saw this book in the new release list over at the Fiction Vixen, I was curious enough to read the sample at amazon and–curses!–got suckered in by a pretty decent first chapter.
Unfortunately, now that I’m actually in the meat of the story, all sorts of writing ticks and offensive character shorthand are jumping at me.
Gentle readers, you may want to avert your eyes entirely–there be ranting and cursing ahead.
First, here’s the blurb (from amazon):
After years of living in fear of her husband, Amanda Banning has left him and moved to Mystic Creek, Oregon, for a fresh start. But she’s having a tough time providing for herself and her six-year-old daughter. Writing her secret yearnings on slips of paper and sending them into the wind helps her cling to the hope that things will get better…and that she can find happiness again.
Jeb Sterling has no idea that the handwritten messages he finds scattered across his land are the first hints that his life is about to change. Nor does he understand why he feels so compelled to help Amanda Banning and her daughter when a cold snap leaves them temporarily homeless. Maybe he’s inspired by Amanda’s courage or perhaps by her beautiful brown eyes. Either way, the man who once renounced love suddenly finds himself willing to do anything for the pair. Amanda seems to have given up on her dreams, but Jeb refuses to quit until he makes her every wish come true.…
What I got of the plot so far: Amanda and plot moppet are next to homeless, renting a shack near Jeb’s fairly extensive and comparatively luxurious house. Freak winter storm. Exploding, then frozen water pipes and downed power lines. Amanda is forced to accept Jeb’s offer to stay at his place until the weather passes and other arrangements can be made.
Now, my reaction.
Amanda is written as a victim of domestic violence solely so that readers automatically feel sympathy for her, root for her, and be so happy she’s found–or is found by–a decent man who will rescue her. She is an insult to victims of domestic abuse everywhere.
No character development, no growth, just cliché on top of cliché. She cringes with fear and wrings her hands with anxiety that Jeb will suddenly morph into her husband–and in the same paragraph she muses on how handsome and attractive he is.
We are told that Amanda is so afraid she keeps a butcher’s knife under her mattress–both at her rented shack and later on at Jeb’s house–yet, when he mentions a minor injury to his hand, she offers to clean and bandage it for him.
Wouldn’t it make more sense, if she’s so fucking afraid, for her to keep her distance when she can, instead of voluntarily cozying up to him?
We are told that Amanda “will die before she let her child be hurt again.” We are told she spends several hours fretting to the point of panic, because the child made a thorough disaster in the downstairs bathroom, but there’s no time to both clean that and get lunch ready before Jeb comes back. And yet, when he does get home for lunch, Amanda stays by the front door wishing she had a weapon, letting Chloe stand next to Jeb as he discovers the mess.
Wouldn’t a woman who is oh, so afraid of the man’s potential anger, and who is willing to die for her child, pull that same child behind her, if not keep her in a different room altogether, and be the one to (potentially) face the violence while telling him?
Seriously, inconsistency much?
Aside, why is it that in romance novels ALL battered women are gorgeous? What, if they were say, merely pretty, they wouldn’t deserve the happy ending? (let alone the manly hero?)
And why do all of them believe they are ugly despite everyone else telling them they are gorgeous? Are we supposed to think they have no vanity and therefore they are intrinsically good, ergo, they deserve happiness? So what, a woman who sees herself clearly does not?
For that matter, if she’s running away and hiding from the deranged abusive husband, why not not use the resources at hand? By all means, run away to another city, as far as whatever money you can scrape together will take you. Once there, don’t be an idiot, go to social services or a women’s shelter. There is help out there, fucking USE it!
But wait, wait, back to Silver Thaw–I’m just getting started.
As I mentioned above, we are told, over and over and over again, that Amanda is terrified of men, because of her husband–never mind that we are told her own father was (is?) a regular, decent guy. No, no, that doesn’t matter, Amanda is terrified out of her mind of men, all men. We know because we are told so. Often.
And yet, within ten minutes of having met Jeb, she notices how handsome and how attractive he is. No really, every third page or so she wonders how can he still be single at ohmygawd! the ripe old age of…thirty.
Yes, because a woman who has just fled an abusive relationship and who is so terrified she cringes when a man gestures to show her where things are in his kitchen, is going to notice how hot that same man is in the very same breath.
At this point, not only I am not feeling any sympathy for Amanda, I would cheerfully slap her all the way to next month, then sit her down for a come to Jesus talk.
Which brings me to the preaching.
You know how we know that the husband is not just a violent asshat but thoroughly eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeevvvvvviiiiillllll?
Because he wouldn’t let Amanda say grace.
No, really. I’m not even a quarter of the way through the book, and there have already been three different passages about saying grace at the table–never mind the many general allusions to prayers.
If there was any doubt about how evil not saying grace over meals is, we have the child point out to Jeb that “Daddy never let us pray,” so that Jeb–hero! good!–can explain that he does, and that in his family yadda yadda yadda. Then Amanda can say how her own father always said grace at the table, and yadda yadda yadda.
Seriously, now. There are entire cultures out there where people who are otherwise very religious–and of the Christian variety, too–never. say. grace.
And they are neither evil nor go to hell.
Look, I know there are people for whom out loud prayer is a huge deal, but honestly? There are a few hints dropped earlier that the husband almost killed both mother and child–nightmares about a gun and so forth–but the thing we get hammered over the head with is that he wouldn’t let them say grace at the table?
Call me a heathen, but I think I would have vastly different priorities there about what makes a man good or evil.
However, if all the above weren’t irking the hell out of me, then we have the plot moppet.
We are told that her father hit Chloe and that she’s still terrified of men, yet, after spending less than six hours total in Jeb’s company, mother and daughter have this exchange:
Chloe put her hands on her hips. “I see how he looks at you when you aren’t watching him.”
Amanda froze in midstride again. “What do you mean? How does he look at me?”
Chloe pursed her lips. “I don’t know. Sort of like you’re chocolate ice cream and he doesn’t have a spoon.”
Are you serious? Didn’t you just tell me–see blurb–that this is a six year old child?
Please tell me how a child that age who has been beaten but not sexually abused by her father and who, we have been told, is terrified of men, can interpret a near stranger’s horny looks, and be happy to take advantage of them.
Honestly, what the fuck?
The we have Jeb, our hero. Not only does he say grace (BFD) and is handsome and strong and kind, and has a great house. He is also wealthy enough that he thinks nothing of dropping what would be at least few thousand buying emergency supplies for a couple dozen families during the emergency situation created by the storm–let alone another grand in winter clothing for Amanda and Chloe alone.
Here’s the thing, though. There is no mention of family wealth so far, and we are told that he does work for a living–he makes custom furniture and construction, I believe? We have even been told that he’s not working at present–something about winter being the off-season for his work.
So tell me, how the hell can he afford to do all this without even thinking about it?
Would our hero be less of a wonderful, decent man, hardworking, generous man, with a loving family, if he happened to think, “shit, this is going to wreck my budget, at least for the short term” or “I hope I get some decent contracts soon, or the credit card interest is going to really hurt me” or even “I hope I get at least some of this back” sometime along the way?
There’s also all the stuff about Jeb being all sad and lonely and disappointed that he’s still single at thirty, because–of course, he’s the hero!–he had always hoped to be married and with plenty of children by then, and about his perfect traditional family, but at this point? There’s no way I can finish this without screaming with rage, and I cannot imagine that I’ll ever be in the frame of mind where I could find it any less offensive.
Silver Thaw is my first DNF review, and I hope I’ve learned my lesson: when I have broken up with an author, it’s best to make it permanent.