Sunday, July 11, 2010

"Snowfall at Willow Lake," by Susan Wiggs

The Chick: Sophie Bellamy. Formerly a hard-line prosecutor for the International Criminal Court, a hostage crisis re-arranges her priorities and she flies back to the U.S. to be closer to her family.
The Rub: Despite all her good intentions, she might still be too late to be the ideal mother to the children she left behind when she pursued her career in Europe.
Dream Casting: Robin Wright.

The Dude: Noah Shepherd. A studly veterinarian, he should be the town catch - except that he's an unabashed nerd with Peter Pan syndrome.
The Rub: He really, really likes the sexy Sophie, despite her protests, but he also longs for a family full of children - can he really expect that of Sophie who's already having trouble with her own kids?
Dream Casting: Mark Ruffalo.

The Plot:

Sophie: Despite my job's fame and contributions to world peace, I wish I could see my kids!

Terrorists: This is a hostage situation! *defeated* Wait, no it's not.

Sophie: Perfect excuse! I'm coming home, kids!

Noah: Hey, you're pretty. What's you here for?

Sophie: To martyr myself for my kids because I'm a selfish human being whose pathetically empty life is full of regret!

Noah: Hawt.

Sophie: Wait - we can't!

Noah: Why?

Sophie: I'm not ready! You're too young! I can't have kids! Pick one, and let's run with it! Better yet, let's go with all three!

Noah: ... okay. S'cool. Let's get married.

Sophie: WTF? Oh who am I kidding. HOORAY!

Romance Convention Checklist:

1 Perfectly Perfect Studly Nerd Vegetarian Vet

1 Martyr-y Ex-Diplomat

2 Precocious Older Children

1 Puppy

Several Nasty Hockey Moms

The Word: In a word, "m'eh." Well, maybe I should elaborate. Taking this up after the snoozetastic Stolen Fury, at least Snowfall at Willow Lake (the penultimate book in my RITA Reading Challenge) is a pleasant "m'eh." For the most part, it's a nicely told, comforting read, but it's also really obvious that this novel is a later book in a huge series, with half-described recurring characters who are probably welcome sights to regular readers of Wiggs but leave newbies like me a little bored and unimpressed.

Heck, even the protagonists, while pleasant to read about, left me a little bored and unimpressed.

Noah Shepherd is driving through a hellish snowstorm in Avalon, New York, on the way back from delivering an animal patient when he comes across a car that slid into a ditch after hitting a deer. The car's driver, a beautiful, sophisticated blond woman, seems to be mostly unhurt but when she notices the blood from a minor cut on her knee, she has an intense nervous reaction and blacks out.

Noah couldn't be happier. A born romantic who's been dumped one too many times for being nerdy and committing, he sees this as the perfect opportunity to play the White Knight. He carries the unconscious woman to his home/clinic, and once she comes to, he sews her up and offers her a place to stay the night, as the snow's too deep to really go anywhere.

Unfortunately, the woman - while pleased, flattered, and comforted by Noah's attentions - isn't looking for a relationship. Sophie Bellamy used to be one of the top-ranked prosecutors of the International Criminal Court in Holland, whose actions sent many dictators and war criminals to prison. At her job, she made a difference, she changed lives - and in her last case, she actually contributed to the liberation of an African nation from a bloody dictatorship. However, the strenuous nature of her work left little time for her children back in America, who had to make due with visits and e-mails while mummy got warlords convicted.

When some of those warlords started a massacre at a celebratory function and took Sophie hostage, after she escaped (physically) unscathed, she decided to right the wrongness in her life, and the wrongness she inflicted on her children when she took herself so far away from them to further her career. So now she's unemployed in Avalon, New York, desperate to mend fences with son Max (12) and daughter Daisy (19), and become the mother they should have had all along.

The novel continues on from here, and it's nice enough, and certainly has moments of realism (like how Max and Daisy aren't immediately willing to drop everything and suddenly believe their mother's home to stay), but everything feels kind of hazy and undefined.

Part of that is because there's a great deal of telling over showing in this book. We're told about certain aspects of the protagonists, and yet it never really enters into how they act. Frankly, Noah is the Perfect Boyfriend. He's shy, he's gentle, he doesn't eat meat, he's an Iron Man champion, he's in a garage band, he loves animals. He is perfect in every way. He's the Mary Poppins of lovers, the Man That Man In the Old Spice Commercial Could Smell Like.

At the beginning we're told that his girlfriends dumped him because he acts like a teenage boy, and Wiggs describes his stereo system and video games and his gym, but Noah never really embodies this immature image in any of his dialogue or actions around Sophie, so the supposed "flaws" in his perfect God of Sex, Healer of Animals, Flexer of Abs image don't really pose any obstacle to the romance until the very, very end.

Sophie was both more understandable, and less sympathetic. She's really the protagonist of Snowfall at Willow Lake, because she's much more developed. I understood her struggles with guilt and regret that she wasn't the perfect super-mum to her kids. I understood her reluctance towards a relationship with Noah thanks to the feeling she doesn't deserve any time to herself that could be spent on her estranged children instead. I understood how she felt she was between a rock and a hard place, with the former coworkers who think she's crazy for choosing to raise her kids instead of liberate nations, and the clique-y hockey moms who look down their self-righteous noses at her for gallivanting about Europe instead of staying home.

At the same time, though, she's depressing to the point of being pathetic. She's whiny, mopey, passive and a martyr who has to be tricked and manipulated through every stage of her relationship with Noah. And she's this way before the hostage situation, too - continually guilt-ridden and full of self-loathing that her kids are too far away to see her win a medal for world-saving.

I expected a hot-shot lawyer who's faced down warlords to have a little more spine. I get that she feels she has to bend over backwards for her kids, but for some reason her mopeyness renders her weak in nearly every other situation, too, not just the ones involving her children. She no longer stands up for herself. She gets taunted by the hockey moms. Bullied by her parents. Patiently led along the primrose path by Noah, whose attraction to Sophie is never satisfactorily explained. It's easy to see why someone would love Sex Vet Extraordinaire, but what does he find so appealing about Sophie in the first place?

That being said, she wasn't an awful character, just a frustrating one who insisted on defying her HEA for as long as possible for martyrish reasons. The entire book is competently written. I liked the setting of Avalon New York, and while the sequel baiting is a little awkward, it's never shoved down your throat. Wiggs also gives the novel a strong supporting cast - Sophie's children, her coworkers, and Noah's friends are all fully drawn. If you're a Wiggs fan who's read the entire series up to this point, I think you might like this book. Those new to Wiggs might want to start with an earlier book and work their way to this one.

No comments:

Post a Comment