Jul 6 2013
Dear Ms. Carpenter:
It’s always interesting to see romance authors reinvent themselves in a new genre or subgenre. I had just finished a “Thea Harrison” paranormal romance, so was primed to compare it to this much older work originally published as Amanda Carpenter. There is a similarity in the focus on external plotlines concerning the larger world — here, it’s the steel industry, rather than Fae politics. Other than that… well, this a category romance published 30 years ago, with all that implies.
You could tell A Deeper Dimension was an older Harlequin just from that lovely title. Alliterative, euphonious — even relevant to the plot, by golly! The “deeper dimension” is what Alex tries to convince Diana that she’s missing from life, in her refusal to become emotionally involved with people.
Diana begins her job as Alexander Mason’s executive assistant with some apprehension. She’s straight out of graduate school, and it’s still a male dominated field. But she quickly makes a place for herself by taking charge during an industry crisis, and grows increasingly close to her intense, energetic boss. Her attraction to him is unnerving however, “a threat to her strength of personality.” An abandoned baby who was bought up in the foster care system, the aptly named Diana is proud of her self-sufficiency, and afraid of human closeness:
She had never had any warmth or affection shown to her and she didn’t know how to take it… In Alex, she glimpsed a world alien to that which she had always known.
The story is told almost entirely from Diana’s point of view, but Alex’s warm feelings for her come through in his teasing, and his consideration for her well-being. (As well as occasional friendly kisses, which apparently was so appropriate between a boss and his assistant in 1983 that even Diana isn’t freaked out by them.) But Diana tenses when he tries to get closer to her:
“I think you’re right to count on yourself to pull you through a crisis. But there is a better way of life than that, Diana. You did fine when you had to survive, but that’s all you know how to do, survive. I’ve seen too many examples of another way of life, a better and deeper…”
“We had a pleasant day, didn’t we?” she interrupted. He fell silent as she continued, walking away. “I think you’d better leave it at that.”
After that the story goes in a pretty typical direction, with accusations of coldness, forced kisses, and even Alex shaking Diana. (Speaking as someone who’s read many old categories, it could be a lot worse.) The resolution of their conflict comes about in a startlingly melodramatic way, which feels out of place with the more low-key, realistic tone of the rest of the book.
As in many workplace romances, casual sexism and sexual harassment runs rampant in this story. At their first meeting, Alex jokingly tells Diana, “And don’t you ever call me ‘sir’ in that tone of voice, my girl, or I’ll turn you over my knee — yes, all six feet of you, and whack you over the bottom.” Although she could use some consciousness raising, Diana does often stand up for herself, asserting at one point, “I will not be taken for granted, nor will I be railroaded into something as if my wishes don’t matter! I mean more to me that that!” Since Alex is not an unmitigated jerk, the asshole:doormat ratio is actually surprisingly good.
A Deeper Dimension has very positive reviews amongst the Harlequin lovers at GoodReads, which makes me suspect I’m not the best audience for it — especially since I have a severe allergy to most lighthearted banter, which is how much of the courtship happens. My guess is that it’s also not likely to appeal to most “Thea Harrison” readers, unless they’re already fond of old categories and workplace romances, and aren’t disappointed with a “kisses only” story. For me, it was an okay read. C.