Friday, December 04, 2009

ANTHOLOGY REVIEW: "The Holiday Inn," by Phyllis Bourne Williams, Farrah Rochon, Stefanie Worth

Alternate Title: Ho-Ho-Hum

The Chick(s): Chandra Stovall (Farrah Rochon's "Change of Heart"), Fallon Terry ("Can You Believe?" by Stefanie Worth), Eva Masters ("By New Year's Day," by Phyllis Bourne Williams). All three women hope their marital troubles won't ruin their Christmas vacations at their cozy resorts.
The Rub: Too bad - they do!
Dream Casting: Respectively - Halle Berry, Beyonce Knowles, and Alfre Woodard.

The Dude(s): Derek Stovall, Naymond Terry, Devon Masters. All they want is a peaceful Christmas holiday with their wives without any interruptions.
The Rub: Too bad their women won't stop bitching at them!
Dream Casting: Respectively, Idris Elba, Terrence Howard, and Lance Reddick.

The Plot (for all three stories):
Women: Bitch bitch bitch bitch!

Men: Moan moan moan moan!

Everyone: Wait, let's not let our deep-seated marital problems distract us from gratuitous, unimaginative, Hallmark-y scenes of holiday-themed hotel perks! *go to spa* *eat great food* *play in the snow*

Women: Now let's spend several pages talking over our problems in a very simplistic manner.

Men: Will our marriages be completely repaired by New Year's, do you think?

Women: There's an excellent chance.

Men: Hooray!

Romance Convention Checklist

3 Unhappily Married Couples

1 Magical Snowglobe

5 Spoiled-Ass Children

1 Big Fat Ho

The Word: I'm not doing this review the same way I've done other anthologies. I can't review these stories separately - they just run together like so many different shades of beige until I can't tell the difference. So I'm going to discuss the complete and utter tedium that is The Holiday Inn Christmas anthology in one big chunk.

I think that is the most telling flaw against the bland little tales in this collection - they're so similar in tone and in writing style, and that same tone is so unimaginative and colourless, that I can barely tell them apart when it comes to writing. If you took the names off these stories and told me to guess which author wrote which story, I might not be able to tell you.

The general theme running through all three tales is the Marriage in Trouble, and in each story the couples decide to spend their Christmas trying to repair their bond at a hotel. The Stovalls' from the first story, "A Change of Heart" (by Farrah Rochon) have been married for 20 years and find themselves growing apart - Chandra is resentful at taking second place to her hubby's business and prefers to solve her problems by storming out of the room. Her husband Derek really has no idea what's going on or why she wants a divorce. Chandra, I guess, would prefer to run away and sign divorce papers without actually have to speak to her husband but when they are snowed in at their rented cabin, they are actually forced to talk to each other. The rest of the story is them bitching and moaning and talking about how unappreciated they are, wah wah wah, and then the power cuts out and they simply have to drink wine to keep warm and then they are moaning for entirely different reasons.

"A Change of Heart" gets a very Scroogey C- from me for being completely dull. The story's idea is very vague, the solution is relatively simple (they go from not talking to talking, then from talking to moaning, then moaning to bitching again, and then from bitching to talking), and the execution is very basic - with our characters speaking in cliches while the author pads the wordcount with treacly descriptions of how quaint their cabin is and how awesome it is to be here in the mountains, etc. etc.

The second story, Stefanie Worth's "Can You Believe?", gets points for a spark of a premise that is sadly soon buried beneath clumsy plotting. Fallon and Naymond Terry are reuniting on their first wedding anniversary after three months apart - Naymond, apparently, is a finalist on an American Idol-type reality show called Chart Toppers and all the odds are that he's going to win big. However, just before they meet up again for the holidays, a tabloid publishes a picture of Naymond making out with a floozy. Naymond denies he's cheating on Fallon but she doesn't really believe him, until a TV psychic gives Fallon a magical snowglobe (for reals) that jettisons Fallon and Naymond one year into the future - into a future where Naymond's won Chart Toppers and is world famous.

Some of the conflict hints at being deliciously prickly - outwardly supportive, Fallon secretly wishes Naymond would lose Chart Toppers because she doesn't think she can compete against the legions of slutty devious female fans Naymond would get if he won, and besides her future for the Terrys involves white-picket fences and suburbs and babies that aren't named after pagan goddesses, automobiles, or fruit. However, author Stefanie Worth goes after the idea much in the same way that Rochon did - with lots and lots of pointless, repetitive bickering, followed by sex and gratuitous, conflict-free scenes of Fallon being pampered at the spa and having her nails done and oohing and aaahing over all the gadgets in their swanky hotel room. All the while the narrative wanders all over the place with no sense of organization or pacing. However, for writing that is slightly more artistic than Rochon's, as well as an interesting premise, this story gets a solid C from me.

The last story is probably the best one, but just barely. Devon whisks his wife Eva off to a resort over the holidays in an effort to convince her to be less of a coddling parent. Apparently, after her children nearly died in a housefire twenty-five years before, she's let guilt determine her parenting and has let her kids walk all over her ever since. She's spent so much time pandering to her mooching progeny that she has nothing left for herself or her husband. Eva, of course, is astounded that Devon would be such a cold-hearted, abusive parent that he'd subject his own children to dirty laundry and frozen dinners. Yes, Eva's a bit nutty in that regard, which is part of why this story moved a bit faster than the others, but still, it soon fell into the same tedious, talk-without-plot rut. C+

All three writers feel they need to sacrifice narrative in exchange for providing Tourist-Brochure description of their hotels. The protagonists being pampered and cossetted by the hotel staff rarely has anything to do with the actual story - and neither do the overblown item-by-item descriptions of all the cool stuff in their hotel room. It's really rather funny that all the while the story is trying to tell us about two people at a crucial, painful and delicate stage of their relationship - the description is all, "Dude! We have a JACUZZI IN THE ROOM! AWESOME!" It screams "Don't you wish you were here?" even as the characters moan, "Don't make the same mistakes we did!"

I realise in comparison to my other reviews, this one isn't very long. Well, let's just say I don't want to waste any more time thinking about this anthology than I absolutely have to. It's easy to write reviews about fantastic books - it's also great fun to write reviews about terrible books. However, it can be difficult to write a review about stories that aren't technically or artistically repugnant, just painfully uninteresting. The Holiday Inn, and all three stories compromised therein, was a slow and inching slog. Listless, unfunny dialogue, cliche Hallmark-ian Christmas activities, uninspired writing on all counts.


  1. Anonymous6:36 PM

    What drew you to this book to start with? Just curious, since married people working out their problems at a hotel isn't the normal romance fare.

  2. Anonymous --> I won it from The Booksmugglers in a contest, and I didn't want to read it AFTER Christmas, so I saved it for next Christmas.

  3. So sorry it was a dud, dude! : (

  4. Ana --> Not your fault! :)