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REVIEW: The Husband She Couldn’t Forget by Carmen Green

Dear Ms. Green,

I had heard about your book, The Husband She Couldn’t Forget, back in September and made a mental note to myself to purchase it, partly because I want to encourage more diversity in the genre, and buying a Silhouette Special Edition that features African American protagonists is a good way to do that, and partly because I have a soft spot for amnesia stories.

Unfortunately, like many mental notes I make to myself, this one went astray, and it wasn’t until your book was mentioned again during our recent discussion of cultural appropriation in romance that I bought the book and began to read it.

In the book’s prologue, we are introduced to Melanie Bishop. Melanie is holding a pregnancy test stick bearing negative results when her doorbell rings. She opens the door to be served with divorce papers. Melanie’s husband, Deion, has left her.

Melanie and Deion have been trying for years to have children, without much luck. Deion has done very well in an investment firm, and he and Melanie have all the trappings of success, but the emptiness of their home has made Melanie miserable. Melanie has sacrificed a lot for the marriage, having even cut off her siblings, so she is devastated by Deion’s decision to end their relationship. She tries desperately to get a hold of him so as to plead with him to give her another chance, but when she can’t locate him, she finally signs the divorce papers and leaves their big house in the care of their housekeeper.

When we next meet up with Melanie, some time has passed. She has gone back to using her maiden name, Wysh, and is working as a therapist at the Ryder Rehabilitation and Spinal Center where she is assigned a patient named Rolland Jones.

Rolland suffers from TBI (traumatic brain injury) as a result of a car accident. After twenty days in comatose state, Rolland awakened with a powerful determination to get better. He underwent surgeries and was given a beautiful face, and he worked very hard at his therapy. His condition when Melanie meets him, three months after the accident, is described this way:

His physical recovery had been nothing short of miraculous, except for the resulting symptoms from TBI. He knew how to write alphabetical letters and words, but he couldn’t write numbers anymore. He reversed things, his shoes occasionally, words, which hand to shake with. He had image memories of his past, but not of the past six years. Sometimes things had to be defined for him. He didn’t know his name, his age, but he thought he’d been married. He confused right and left and didn’t have a mental edit button. Whatever he thought came right out of his mouth. He still suffered with balance problems and he sometimes got lost.

It’s not stated exactly what kind of therapist Melanie is, but from what I gathered it seems she is neither a physical therapist nor a psychotherapist. Rather, her job is to prepare Rolland for life in the real world. She is to teach him things like how to use a compass, how to write numbers, and how to cook.

When they meet for the first time, Rolland is quickly smitten. Melanie is the first woman he remembers being attracted to, and he knows that he wants her to be more than his therapist almost from the very beginning. But Melanie, who doesn’t want to lose her job, refuses his advances because he is her patient and because she is afraid to risk her heart a second time.

Gradually it becomes harder and harder for Melanie to resist Rolland’s sweetness and sincerity, and it gets even more difficult when a fire makes the Ryder Center uninhabitable. Most of the patients are transferred to other facilities, but because Rolland is so close to recovering, the Center’s director decides that Rolland and Melanie can stay in his empty summer home while they finish the last three weeks of Rolland’s therapy.

Will Melanie be able to withstand Rolland’s honest and heartfelt declarations of his feelings? What will happen to her if she can’t? And what about Rolland? How will he feel when he discovers his true identity?

Rolland was a wonderful character — caring, trusting, devoted to Melanie, and completely guileless. I loved the way his unedited frankness sometimes made him say embarrassing things, but also revealed how much he cared. Here’s an example, from a scene in which Rolland and Melanie are discussing Melanie’s ex-husband:

“What I should have said is that he didn’t really know you. There’s fire in you. I felt it in your hands the first time you touched me. My arm tingled. I felt it again when we kissed. So if he divorced you, that’s his loss.”

She still looked doubtful and he knew what the other therapists had told him to be true. Only time would make him speak faster and not exhaust him. And only time would make Melanie understand her husband hadn’t been worthy of her love.

I loved Rolland, but I was less keen on Melanie. In most ways she was a nice person, but I feel that the instant she recognized her feelings for Rolland or his for her, she should have asked for Rolland to be assigned to a different therapist. It helped that Melanie at least worried about the ethics of the situation and understood that she was doing something unethical, but I was really uncomfortable when Melanie and Rolland finally had sex, because of the patient/therapist relationship.

In many ways I feel that this is a problem with the book’s premise, but it comes off in a way that makes me less than happy with Melanie’s character, and not entirely sure about Melanie’s happy ending with Rolland. There was also a point in which a neighbor helps Rolland woo Melanie, knowing that the two were patient and therapist, and I wondered what this neighbor was thinking.

Late in the books, there is a discussion of an insider trading investigation and a resulting court case. I’m neither a lawyer nor an SEC investigator so I don’t know if the legal details are accurate, but I was somewhat doubtful when I read the scene.

Some of the dialogue was a bit stilted, but a lot of it was affecting. I really felt for Rolland and sympathized with Melanie’s dilemma, even though I think she should have handled things differently, and I would have liked to see even more fallout from her actions. Had Rolland been any less wonderful, I think I would have been very annoyed with this book, but I liked him enough that I was able to enjoy it despite my problems with Melanie’s ethics.

In the end, my feelings about The Husband She Couldn’t Forget are mixed. C+ for this one.

Sincerely,

Janine

This book can be purchased at Amazon or in ebook format from Sony or other etailers.

Janine Ballard loves well-paced, character-driven books. Examples include novels by Shana Abe, Loretta Chase, Patricia Gaffney, Cecilia Grant, Judith Ivory, Carolyn Jewel, Laura Kinsale, Julie Anne Long, Alison Richardson, Nalini Singh and Pam Rosenthal. Janine also writes fiction. Her critique partners are Sherry Thomas, Meredith Duran and Bettie Sharpe. Her erotic short story, "Kiss of Life", appears in the Berkley anthology AGONY/ECSTASY under the pen name Lily Daniels. You can email Janine at janineballard at gmail dot com. or find her on Twitter @janine_ballard.

11 Comments

  1. Julia Sullivan
    Nov 18, 2009 @ 15:09:26

    her job is to prepare Rolland for life in the real world. She is to teach him things like how to use a compass, how to write numbers, and how to cook.

    That’s what occupational therapists do (well, the writing and the cooking–the “use a compass” is outside the usual remit).

    And, yeah, this plot is a Festival Of Professionally Unethical Behavior.

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  2. SonomaLass
    Nov 18, 2009 @ 15:28:45

    There was a lot that bothered me about this book; I couldn’t give it a passing grade. Her boss would send her to live alone for three weeks with a male patient in his convenient “summer home”? Right. The whole premise just bugged me. I don’t see how they got past all the dishonesty between them, either; the ending didn’t satisfy me on that score.

    I think part of the problem I had identifying with Melanie (because yes, Rolland was a big old sweetie) was the incomplete POV I got as a reader. In order to keep THE SECRET, a lot of what Melanie must have been thinking wasn’t actually revealed to the reader, and that made it hard to really like her or feel that I understood her.

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  3. Barbara B.
    Nov 18, 2009 @ 17:21:44

    Thanks for the review, Janine. I really appreciate it.

    “She is to teach him things like how to use a compass, how to write numbers, and how to cook.”

    I’m thinking I need an occupational therapist, too. I’ve got that writing numbers thing down(barely), but I could sure use those other lessons.

    Despite the flaws I’ll probably give this book a try. It certainly won’t be my first imperfect read.

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  4. Janine
    Nov 18, 2009 @ 17:51:48

    @Julia Sullivan: Thanks for letting me know that Melanie is an occupational therapist. It might have been mentioned in the book but if so I didn’t catch it.

    ETA: The use of compass was so Rolland wouldn’t get lost. His sense of direction was affected by his injury, if memory serves.

    @SonomaLass: I agree that Melanie’s boss sending Melanie and Rolland to live in his summer home felt contrived. To the degree that I enjoyed the book, it was because of Rolland’s sweetness and the way the author used his brain injury to shape his character.

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    I was trying to avoid giving spoilers away in the review.

    Re. the omissions from the POV, I’m not sure if having those POV thoughts revealed would have helped. In some ways I think it would have made Melanie even less sympathetic (since she was knowingly withholding important information), but it could have also led to a good kind of complexity. I can see pros and cons to both approaches, but the bottom line for me is that either way, Melanie’s role as Rolland’s therapist was inappropriate when she was romantically involved with him at the same time. I think this story might have worked a little bit better for me had Melanie been a volunteer at the Ryder center, instead of Rolland’s therapist, but even with that, I can see ethical problems.

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  5. Janine
    Nov 18, 2009 @ 17:53:34

    @Barbara B.: You’re welcome! :) I hope you enjoy the book. Please feel welcome to post your thoughts about it here.

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  6. Evangeline
    Nov 19, 2009 @ 22:49:35

    Could you compare this to Flowers From the Storm (except, you know, a contemporary)?

    I haven’t yet read the book, but I’m interested in the amnesia aspect. Historically, amnesia in romance is treated the way it is in soap operas–simple memory loss–rather than a true “mental disorder.”

    Also, was the unethical part that bad that it soured the reading experience? I can’t help but acknowledge that a few best-loved romance titles deal with unethical premises (hello Nobody’s Baby But Mine! and definitely This Heart of Mine!), rather than the plot segueing into unethical territories.

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  7. Janine
    Nov 20, 2009 @ 01:27:32

    Could you compare this to Flowers From the Storm (except, you know, a contemporary)?

    Hi Evangeline. Could you clarify what kind of comparison? In terms of the premise, the prose, the characterization?

    I haven't yet read the book, but I'm interested in the amnesia aspect. Historically, amnesia in romance is treated the way it is in soap operas-simple memory loss-rather than a true “mental disorder.”

    The treatment of the amnesia and Rolland’s characterization were my favorite aspects of this book. I loved that it wasn’t just a convenient knock on the head that removed memories and nothing else, but that it had other side effects as well, and was a mental disorder.

    Also, was the unethical part that bad that it soured the reading experience? I can't help but acknowledge that a few best-loved romance titles deal with unethical premises (hello Nobody's Baby But Mine! and definitely This Heart of Mine!), rather than the plot segueing into unethical territories.

    This is hard to answer fully without giving spoilers, but I’ll answer to the degree that I can. I think it was a combination of unethical and unprofessional behavior (and BTW I’m not fond of Nobody’s Baby But Mine either, because from what I know of physicists, which is considerable, one would never go about trying to produce an average intelligence child in such a completely unscientific way! I have not read This Heart of Mine), but that’s not all.

    Because I thought Rolland was wonderful, I hated to see some of what he went through as a result of Melanie’s actions. I could see her putting him in a kind of emotional jeopardy as the book went along, and I kept wanting this to be averted. The effects of the brain injury made Rolland very innocent, and he was trusting and big-hearted, too. I felt that Melanie’s actions were a betrayal of that trust. As an occupational therapist, she was unprofessional and unethical, and as a woman who loved Rolland, she was unfair to him, until quite late in the story.

    My reading experience wasn’t totally soured BTW. I think the reason Melanie’s choices didn’t totally ruin the book for me was that I was able to look at this not so much as a flaw in Melanie’s personality (because as I say, she seemed like a nice, caring woman in all other regards), but as a flaw in the premise of the plot.

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  8. CD
    Nov 20, 2009 @ 11:34:39

    I have a question to ask but I can’t seem to get spoiler tags to work. So…

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    Trying to phrase this obliquely but I get the distinct impression from the review (not to mention the title) that this is reminiscent somewhat of Putney’s DEARLY BELOVED. Is that the case? I have to say that those sorts of plots are a guilty pleasure of mine so will probably lap this up.

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  9. Janine
    Nov 20, 2009 @ 13:21:02

    CD–

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    Um, to be equally oblique, yes and no. If you email me, I will explain further.

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  10. Evangeline
    Nov 20, 2009 @ 15:44:15

    @Janine:

    Hi Evangeline. Could you clarify what kind of comparison? In terms of the premise, the prose, the characterization?

    I just meant in terms of what Rolland’s amnesia meant for the plot and the romance. Was Rolland ever shown/told of who he was before the accident?

    I could see her putting him in a kind of emotional jeopardy as the book went along, and I kept wanting this to be averted.

    Ah! Now I see. I think I’ll try this book because it does sound interesting. Thanks for the review!

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  11. Janine
    Nov 20, 2009 @ 16:32:19

    @Evangeline: Rolland only learns who he is toward the end of the book, so it’s somewhat different from FFTS in that regard.

    I hope you enjoy the book! Please feel welcome to post your thoughts when you have read it. I would be interested to hear more opinions.

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