Monday, October 27, 2008

Perfect by Judith McNaught *****

Perfect is a sort of sequel (more like related-characters, or a series, I guess) to Paradise, and reading them back-to-back like this was, uhm, interesting. For one thing, they're both a little different from the romance novels I've been reading. It's not just that they're contemporary, or even so much that they're quite a lot longer. It's more like a style - a sort of epic.

OK, I just googled definitions of "epic" - to me, epic means a story that takes place over a long period of time, spanning generations or years. However, I'm not exactly right about that because traditionally, epic is a "lengthy narrative of heroic actions" - so, Perfect doesn't really fit that definition. There are some heroic actions - mostly by the heroine, I might add, but maybe not in the tradition of epic poems. However, apparently epic films are generation-spanning, so maybe that is where I got the idea for this term. Think "Giant" with Elizabeth Taylor, Rock Hudson and James Dean - that is surely an epic.

But it is long, involved, with a huge cast of characters (think DeMille), and it does take place over several years (only 1 generation though) even though the hero and heroine only actually know each other for a few weeks. The style of both books is to give the backstory of each character quite a lot of copy/pages/importance before getting to the meat of the story - and in both books there are 2 distinct periods where the hero and heroine interact with each other, and a break in between. The break in Paradise is 11 years; in Perfect it's only a few weeks, but emotionally the distance is about the same. That contrasts with the novels I've been reading which may involve a separation but get to the point of the story quicker, and resolve it quicker.

The basic plot is that the hero, Zack, a movie star/director (think in the league of Robert Redford, but younger) is wrongly accused of murder, imprisoned 5 years before he escapes - on his escape, he ends up taking the heroine Julie as hostage. Julie was a virginal God-fearing small-town teacher, living in the town she grew up in from age 11 after being adopted. She was driving home from getting a donation to the local literacy program in a nearby city when he kidnapped her. Whew! Could they be any more different??

I'm sorta surprised Stockholm syndrome wasn't mentioned in this book, because that's all I could think about when she started becoming sympathetic to him. It almost overshadowed my own usual suspension of belief when I read a romance novel, where I can believe 2 people are instant soul mates and/or so attracted to one another that it doesn't take much time for them to become lovers then want to marry (the usual HEA of a romance). But McNaught's prose - and maybe even the relentless ongoing story twists and turns - kept me involved.

There's a point in each backstory, as adults but long before they meet, that the hero and heroine each realize there is something missing in their lives, and they are both looking for the same thing: someone to love, who loves them, who anchors them. I think this one particular plot point is what helps you suspend your belief - I mean, can a rich, famous movie star/director-escaped-convict find love with a religious virginal school teacher? I guess so!

It's so much more involved than just a kidnapping, though. There's the entire story of how Zach ends up in Hollywood, how he becomes an actor, a director and what leads up to the fatal shooting of his wife with a prop gun on the set of a movie in which he is both the star and the director. There's the details of a tiny girl pickpocket, a sort of pint-sized Robin Hood who organizes children into strikes at school and the group home to force changes but whose own self-esteem is so low she cannot believe anyone would want her, after being left in an alley by her birth mother and rejected by several foster families when she was a toddler. There's the story of her adoption by Reverend and Mrs. Mathison and her upbringing as an upstanding member of the community, her development of a sports program for handicapped kids and a literacy program for women. Shoot, the book is almost 700 pages! It's a lot of stuff!

There's also an awful lot of name-dropping that makes me wonder how well the book will read in 40 years when these actors are just names - but hey, they're still famous now, 20+ years after publication, so maybe they'll always be recognizable names.

I was teetering on a 4 star rating - really liked it, but not enough for keeper status, but the more involved I got, the more I enjoyed the story. In the end, that brought it up to a 5 star read.

1 comment:

Cindy W said...

This was my very first romance novel and will always remember it!