Briar Rose

Lighthouse Cove

Magic

The Mother's Day Garden

 
The Gazebo by Kimberly Cates
(HQN, $12.95, PG-13), ISBN 0-373-77051-0
***
A central ingredient in an emotional read is a strong, proactive heroine with whom the reader immediately sympathizes: how else are we to feel with her if we don't feel for her? Despite a number of intriguing characters, The Gazebo doesn't quite succeed with the one who really matters.

Deirdre McDaniel has always felt she couldn't live up to her parents' high standards. As a child and an adolescent, she frequently disappointed both her ladylike mother and her disciplinarian army captain of a father. Getting pregnant at eighteen didn't help things. So when she learns that she was born of her well-mannered mother's adulterous affair and that she therefore doesn't rightly deserve the honorable name of McDaniel, she feels vindicated. Despite her family's, and in particular her daughter's, vociferous objections, she hires Jake Stone to find her biological parent. In so doing, she ignores her long-standing animosity for the private investigator (the two meet in Picket Fence, which I have not read; not that that matters as far as this novel is concerned).

Jake Stone is too good to be true. Under his tough guy exterior lurks a kind and gentle person, who knows the value of friendship, male and female. Several years ago, after confessing to killing a suspect, he was kicked off the police force. This professional failure was compounded when his ambitious and upwardly-mobile wife divorced him. Jake occasionally bemoans his dead-end life. It quickly becomes clear, however, that he is neither as gruff nor as solitary as he appears (his jovial grandmother and family-oriented friends make for nice, uplifting secondary characters). In fact, he has few serious problems of his own, which makes him all the more available to deal with Deirdre's. And since she has a number of unresolved issues from the past, most of which have to do with fathers - both of hers as well as her daughter's - she needs all the help she can get.

Thus, although Deirdre's and Jake's slowly unfolding relationship is the focus of the novel, the real conflict is to be found within Deirdre and in her relationship to her daughter. A teenager with an oddly solid head on her shoulder, Emma doesn't approve of how Deirdre handles the surprising news. Nor does she like the way her mother uses it to turn against her grandfather (an opinion I share; Deirdre's behavior, however justified, verges on selfish and cruel). In true teen-age fashion, Emma tries to get her own back by threatening to do something about her virginity and to find out her father's name. The spats between mother and daughter occupy a serious portion of the novel, and most of the time, I confess, I was rooting for Emma. She is a likeable character, even if, like Jake, she is too good to be true.

Romance characters are notorious for not leading realistically active lives, and Deirdre does little to change this tendency. We rarely see her do anything for the bed-and-breakfast she is supposed to be co-managing (same goes for Jake who doesn't seem to be handling any other case). Instead, she spends a lot of time, especially in the first half, feeling sorry for herself, angry for the way she was treated as a child and guilty for how she so nearly abandoned her daughter. None of this helps make her a likeable character.

The Gazebo is well written in a poignant, lyrical style. Unfortunately, too much emotion contributes to an over-dramatic pitch. What's more, some of the solutions are too clean and some of the turn-abouts too quick to be credible. So, while the novel is not deeply flawed, it doesn't pull everything together for that full-throttle punch necessary for a powerful and memorable emotional read.

--Mary Benn


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