REVIEW: Not the Marrying Kind by Hailey North
Dear Ms. North:
Ned opens the packages at our house and when he opened the Avon November 2007 box and saw this book, he proffered his opinion on the plot. “This book,” he said holding up the novel with its cover toward me, “is about a guy whose been having sex with a married woman and he just jumped out of the window because the husband got home; he hasn’t even had time to put on his shirt yet, but plans on getting one last smacker in before the husband comes and beats the crap out of him.”
I guess that is one interpretation of it. The cover did imply some type of furtive coupling but I didn’t actually see anything in the book that actually pertained to the scene on the front other than the heroine’s hair is, indeed, short, spiky and dark. The story actually started off strong for me. The heroine is one of those nerds in high school returning triumphant and I like that story. It had a secret baby plot, but it seemed that the heroine had a pretty legitimate excuse for not informing the biological father of his creation – she couldn’t find him. But the story failed to deal with any of the issues that were raised and it began to fall apart at the halfway point.
Harriet P. Smith is returning to her home town so that her fifteen year old son can visit with his recently deceased father’s mother over Christmas. Harriet P Smith, as the heroine often refers to herself as, would rather be anywhere than Doolittle, Arkansas. She’s lived in New York for the past sixteen years and made a name for herself as a famous artist. The last thing she expects to find in Doolittle is the biological father of her son, another famous person, celebrity music executive Jake Porter.
Jake Porter, the son of a career military man, never had any roots until he found his way to Doolittle High School. There the handsome young man flourished finding friendship and popularity. Jake was always drawn to Harriet P Smith and one night took her to prom on a dare. They shared the standard prom evening, relieved each other of their virginity and the next day Jake was packed up by his father to go to another base and Harriet P Smith was left with a baby on the way.
Harriet P Smith and her best friend, who happened to be gay, got married and pretended that Zach was their child. However, Harriet P Smith’s husband dies and Harriet P Smith is left with the dilemma of when and if she should share the news of fatherhood with Jake. Once face to face with Jake, however, she can’t quite make up her mind what to do so she proceeds to have sex with him.
Harriet P Smith was a bit of ditz and her persona, as written, seemed to be in conflict with her supposed famous artistic ability. I’ve always associated artists with a great deal of passion and Harriet seemed lacking in any strong emotion. She was a ditherer. At some points, I felt like Harriet was sleep walking her way through the story. She appeared to be more emotionally stunted than her 15 year old son.
Jake’s most interesting conflict is not with Harriet but with his father. His father was gone more than he was home when Jake was growing up and his mother verged on mental instability creating a very bad home life for Jake. As his father grew older and found love of his own, he realized that he hadn’t been a good parental figure for Jake. Ted Porter admits his shortcomings and tries to make amends. Jake’s response to his father’s attempts at renewing a relationship were poignant and provided the best, albeit understated, emotional parts of the book.
What could have been done here was to create a parallel with Jake’s fatherhood of Zach and what kind of issues the two of them would have once they found their connection to each other. Instead the revelation of Zach’s parentage happens so late in the book that there is no time for any meaningful emotional resolution. Zach actually disappeared for huge chunks of the book, not only physically but also in the mind of his mother. He appeared to be an afterthought with Harriet as she spent most of her time reminiscing about the past and lusting after Jake rather than thinking about the recent trauma her son had just suffered (the loss of his father figure) and the shock to which he would soon be exposed (that his now dead father wasn’t really his father but this other guy that his mom is totally lusting after is).
The easy convenience with which Zach’s placement in the story is used is one of the reasons that secret baby plots are so distasteful to me. The emotional issues that come with one parent being deprived of the love and affection of his child along with the emotional deceit that could rock the foundation of a precocious teenage boy are not minor. There are other issues which are brought up and summarily dismissed such as Harriet P Smith’s weird estrangement from her parents that is suddenly resolved quite cursorily. If there was any, it happened off stage. It was a struggle for me to finish the book as I kept hoping that these meaningful issues that were brought up would be dealt with but the dismissive way in which the issues were treated seemed strange and empty. C-.
This book can be purchased in mass market.