Flush with kudos for her book about a paraplegic heroine, Catherine Anderson turns to visual impairment for her new story. I guess we’re supposed to be so touched by her good intentions that we’ll overlook the fact that this is a big bowl of cliché soup.
Blind all her 28 years, until an operation just one week earlier, Carly Adams likes what she sees when she notices Hank Coulter getting loaded in a rowdy country-and-western pickup joint. When the hunk actually hits on her, Carly is thrilled. Ignoring warnings about combining her post-op medication with alcohol, Carly lets Hank urge a strong drink on her.
Loosened up by booze and charm, Carly goes out to the parking lot with Hank for some unprotected sex in his truck. Hank realizes he has rather crudely deflowered a virgin, then passes out. Afterward, horrified by his callous behavior, he tries unsuccessfully to find ‘Charlie.’
Carly is equally horrified to find she’s pregnant. Not only will this derail her plans to go to graduate school, but the changes in her body because of the pregnancy will likely take away her sight. She can have another operation to restore it afterward – if she can afford it.
Grudgingly accepting that she needs help, Carly steels herself to call Hank. He doesn’t instantly recognize her name, so she hangs up on him, furiously declaring him a “conceited self-serving jerk” who has “forfeited all rights.”
When Hank realizes what’s going on, he tries everything to get Carly to talk to him, in spite of her self-righteous rejections. Finally, when Carly’s best friend urges him to take the kid gloves off, he proposes a temporary marriage that will enable him to take care of Carly, her expenses and the baby – and threatens to sue for custody if she continues to refuse his help.
I’d have had more sympathy for Carly if she’d ever stopped complaining, and the book is full of her hectoring tone even when she’s offstage. Instead of conversation we get lengthy speeches about the problems of the visually impaired. We’re lectured on the issues of health insurance, for example, but amidst all the sermons there are some peculiar holes. Carly has never seen her father’s face – and shows no interest in doing so. She can’t read – so how does she go to graduate school? And would someone with the kind of vision problems described in the book simply be turned loose to “train her visual cortex” with no post-operative therapy?
His sense of responsibility miraculously transforms Hank from a cowboy Lothario into an upstanding citizen determined to do the right thing. If not particularly credible, it’s at least a nice change of scenery. Carly just barricades herself in Snitsville, blaming Hank for destroying her life and feeling sorry for herself.
Carly’s not to blame for anything, of course, because she has little experience with men: “boys weren’t interested in her because of her blindness.” Naturally, she knows she’s not pretty, so when Hank tries to tell her how lovely he finds her it’s just further proof that he’s a lying scumbag. On the other hand, she lives in constant terror that just being around her will drive him into a frenzy of uncontrollable lust. Which does not stop her, more than once, from toddling out of the bathroom wearing nothing but a towel. Carly needed to buy a robe and get over herself.
As to their romance, well, Hank is drawn to Carly’s “look of angelic sweetness” even when she’s behaving like a childish shrew. Clearly they both had serious vision problems.
And nobody escapes tarring with the cliché brush: “Sometimes a woman lets her emotions cloud her judgment.” “A lot of disabled people accept their limitations and settle for less.” (Because the able-bodied always achieve their full potential?) And the ever-popular, “a man has physical needs...” The fifties have been gone for nearly half a century. Could we move on, please?
Frankly, I wish there were more romances about people who aren’t WASP, physically ‘perfect’ and financially independent. But it seems counter-productive to write about someone with a handicap and then cripple them with stereotypes.
-- Judi McKee