Meant to be Married by Ruth Wind

December 18, 2013 Contemporary, Reviews 5

Book cover for Meant to be Married by Ruth Wind. A color illustration of a white man with brown hair, wearing a bolo tie with a white shirt, holds a blond white woman in a purple dress.To say my hopes were high for this book might not be totally accurate, but I went into this book with a certain expectation for quality writing and storytelling. I’d read three books so far by Ruth Wind/Barbara Samuel/Barbara O’Neal (pick a name, woman!), all of them telling a multicultural story of some sort, and they had all been solid, entertaining stories with relatable protagonists and fleshed out villains. Meant to be Married didn’t have me drooling with anticipation or anything, as the blurb advertises a plot that’s a Harlequin staple, but I did expect a comfort read. What I got was far less satisfying.

The book starts off well enough. Sarah Greenwood is a world-famous fashion photographer who has a terrible bout of homesickness while celebrating her 30th birthday in London and decides to head home to New Mexico. (Shhhhh. Don’t think too hard about making it to the top of fashion photography by 30. #romancelogic) She hasn’t been home for more than a quick overnight visit since she graduated high school 12 years ago, but her father is sick and she feels she should be a good daughter and go home for a while. So she’s packed up some of her stuff and moved into a furnished rental, planning to stay for a month or so. Immediately after settling in she runs into her old boyfriend, Elias Santiago, whose hateful glare from a truck window makes her legs wobbly. Right after that her drugged up father apologizes about “the baby,” a topic she then declares to be off-limits.

So you get the idea pretty quickly that this book’s going to be a total angst-fest. We see that the lovestruck boyfriend who got arrested when they were teenagers in the prologue now hates the heroine and her father. The father muttering apologies about a baby hints not so subtly at a coerced abortion or adoption in the past. Additionally, Sarah muses about a 150 year old feud between the Santiagos and the Greenwoods, dating back to the time a young Santiago was hanged for raping a Greenwood. Now that Sarah’s back in town and her father is ill, all the skeletons fall out of their respective closets and demand attention. Drama galore.

I’m a big fan of angsty Harlequins, so this sort of secret-filled, second chance romance should have been right up my alley. As I was reading, however, I was growing more and more frustrated with the book. The more secrets that came out, the more the book became obsessed with the F-word: Forgiveness. I have some problems with how romance deals with victims forgiving the person who wronged them, and this book ticked off most of them.

To lay it out, spoilers and all, Sarah and Elias were a couple when they were teenagers and tried to run away to get married when Sarah got pregnant. Sarah’s father, the local police chief, caught them on their way back home and arrested Elias. He then called in favors to keep Elias in jail on bogus charges for a couple months while he arranged for Sarah to go 300 miles away and have her baby while isolated from friends and family then pressure her to give the child up for adoption. Her mother didn’t intervene.

This is a pretty serious wrong if you ask me. Doing the math out, it sounds like they were 18, maybe 17, when this happened. That’s sociopath-level manipulation and abuse of power. So I have a real problem with the book tying the heroine’s happiness and character growth to her ability to reconcile with her father and forgive his actions. The way her father keeps framing his actions as “I was doing what I believed was best for you” makes it clear that he’s not really sorry about what he did. He remains hateful towards Elias through the end of the book, telling him he wanted to put a bullet in his head for becoming a successful businessman. If he’s sorry at all, it’s for making his daughter mad and losing the control he had over her. That’s it.

I see this too often in romance. It’s okay to cut toxic people out of our lives. Heroines shouldn’t have to empathize with the people who hurt them and discard their anger to remain sympathetic. When Sarah starts to agree with her father’s reasoning that she wouldn’t have traveled the world and become successful had she been a married teenage mother, I wanted to cry. Then there’s this exchange with Elias’ grandmother.

“I put a charm on him, but he has self-control, our Elias. He chose to go another way—and because he did not become violent, as all his people and your people did before him, the three of you have a chance to end it now.”

Frustration welled in Sarah’s throat. “I’ve tried!” she burst out. “Don’t you think I tried? They always put me in the middle. They’re still doing it.”

“The middle is a good place to see both sides, eh?”

Ignoring the magical Mexican healer grandma business, what’s going on here is Elias’ grandmother pressuring Sarah to make Elias and her father reconcile. So she has to not only forgive him herself, she has to make others do it too, or she’s a failure. That’s just fucking unfair. That she ends up doing it, and with a god damned art show FFS, just made me groan. God forbid a woman be angry. Perish the thought.

Final Assessment: Wind’s a good writer, so if you have a different philosophy on forgiveness you might enjoy this just fine. I wanted to tell the heroine that’s it’s okay to walk away from people who hurt you. (Also? The book refers repeatedly to the hero’s niece’s “ethnic look.” /wince) D

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An ice hockey fan from north of Boston and the genre's most beloved troll, Ridley enjoys reading contemporary and historical romance, as well as the odd erotica novel. As someone who uses a wheelchair, she takes a particular interest in disability themes.

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5 Responses to “Meant to be Married by Ruth Wind”

  1. AMG

    As I cut a toxic parent out of my life for about 6 years, I’m fine with the lack of forgiveness. In fact, my mother & I reconciled, but there were no tears of forgiveness, no tender scenes. She grew up somewhat, and I realized that I had power in the relationship, so we could move on without any Hallmark moments. I gave up on her asking me for forgiveness. When she died, we were at peace with each other, because we understood the other’s shortcomings. And that’s OK.

  2. Meoskop

    I think I read this. Or something very like. This is a hot spot for me too, the belief that no matter how deranged the parent blood trumps all.

  3. Ridley

    Just about the only book I’ve read that dealt with a toxic parent in a believable way was Sarah Mayberry’s The Last Goodbye. The hero’s father had been verbally and physically abusive, but when his father is diagnosed with late-stage cancer, he finds he can’t let the man die alone. So he comes “home” to take care of him. His father didn’t change, he stays an unrepentant control freak and asshole until the end, and the hero never forgives him for it, he just accepts it for what it was and that it was out of his control. It still sticks to the “closure” fantasy, but it at least respects the reality of abusive personalities in the process.

  4. Laura K Curtis

    Arggggg. This is a total hot-button for me. Not just parental forgiveness, but forgiving friends, ex-partners, etc. I’m not a hardass. In real life, I tend to forgive fairly easily, but the wrongs done to me tend to be relatively small. Those wrongs that are not are a wholly different story. I can move past them, get on with my life, but not forgive them, if that makes sense. I don’t give a damn anymore about my abusive ex, but regardless how wonderful he might be to someone else after years of therapy, I wouldn’t have him in MY life. Nor do I feel as if I need to in order to get on with my life. I don’t understand the need for “closure” on everything. Life isn’t like that and even my *fantasy* life in romance isn’t like that!

  5. AMG

    Yes, I respected that Mayberry. I kept expecting there to be a sappy reconnection, but there wasn’t. It was realistic.