Sunday, May 25, 2008

The Hellion by LaVyrle Spencer ***

I'm glomming Spencer's books, and I got a PBS deal on 7 hardcovers, of which 1 has 3 stories, and of which I have read 2 already - so that is 9 stories, 7 new to me.

The first one I picked up was the 3 story book, and the first story (it's a complete novel, not a short story or novella) is The Hellion. It's a first-love story - the hero and heroine were always next door neighbors, grew up, fell in love - and she got pregnant at 17. The heroine's parents decide the best thing is to send her away to another state to a home for pregnant teens, give the baby up for adoption and keep her out of town for her senior high year. The incident also causes the parents of the kids to cease their close friendship, since they don't agree on how it was handled, and the hero also stops communicating with his parents after a few years as well.

That's the backstory - now it's 24 years later, and the hero is The Hellion - fast living, fast cars, fast women, 3 failed marriages, 3 troubled kids. He drinks too much, drives too fast, has a beer belly - but he's a successful businessman, still living in the same small town with the heroine and all the parents. The heroine is now, just, a widow - she nursed her husband through 2 years of cancer, and as the story opens, she is burying him. Hero and heroine have successfully avoided each other all these years - but he attends the funeral and the story begins.

A lot of this story is dated, firmly set in the 1980s, like some of her other books of this era. Maybe in several more years it will work as a period piece, but right now the decorating and dressing details just seem dated. The big conflict really is that he has such a reputation now that she finds it hard to overcome What People Will Say, especially her father. Frankly it took her a while to just tell her father to go to hell - he's really the villain in this piece, for strong-arming her all along, including into the marriage with the husband who just died. He tries to strong arm her into into another relationship, with the man who was there for her during the husband's illness, and she even gives that a shot.

Well, there is one more issue: the hero's 14-yr-old daughter is rebellious and comes to live with him after she fights with her mother. The hero now has an obstacle - how to break it to a teen who holds a fantasy that her parents might get back together that he has another, true love. This is actually a stickier proposition than dealing the hero's father - after all, the father is an adult who actually did the kids wrong all those years ago, and deserves to be put in his place. The daughter has a lot more to overcome, and had no part in the original situation - and she is just a child.

Three stars for good story telling and prose. It didn't grab me and squeeze my heart, and I don't have a great need to read it again like Morning Glory or That Camden Summer.

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