Mother of the Bride
by Lynn Michaels
(Ballantine, $6.99, PG-13) ISBN 0-8041-1960-0
****
Despite the fact that more punches are thrown in this book than in many prize fights, I found Mother of the Bride a well-written, charming and entertaining story of surprising depth. (Romantic comedies are seldom notable for their complexity.)

Cydney Parrish and her sister, Gwen, are both professional photographers. Gwen has two Pulitzer Prizes and Cydney has a mortgage and Bebe, the nineteen-year-old daughter of Gwen’s first marriage. Self-absorbed and ambitious, Gwen dumped Bebe on good ol’ safe, dependable Cydney when the little girl was three. Since then Gwen’s made a career out of jet setting - and missing the milestones in Bebe’s life.

Suddenly, Bebe announces she’s marrying Aldo Munroe, Gwen says she’s about to marry for the fifth time, and Cydney’s mother (long divorced from Cydney’s father, a famous mystery writer) gets engaged. Cydney, who’s put everything on hold to take care of Bebe and the rest of her ego-maniacal family, starts to think her life is missing something.

Just what that “something” is becomes crystal clear when she meets Aldo’s guardian and uncle, Angus Munroe, the reclusive novelist Cydney admires. Okay, worships.

Gus makes no bones about the fact that he thinks Bebe and Aldo are too young and too (there’s no polite way to put this) stupid to get married. He thinks “Uncle Cyd” is darn cute, but his initial attempts to stop the wedding are heavy-handed and crude, and don’t make him any friends. For her part, Cydney is crushed by the difference between the real Gus and her fantasy, but determined to help true love prevail in spite of his objections.

When he can’t convince the young couple to postpone the wedding, Gus persuades them to have it at his isolated home. He hopes that once he’s got all the principals there he can put a stop to the wedding nonsense.

Right from the start, Cydney is a vivid and sympathetic character. Undervalued and even ignored by her selfish, manipulative relatives, her hurt and sense of isolation are quietly heart wrenching even as she can’t help herself from reaching out to them. She does start out as a doormat, but that makes her development as a character all the more satisfying.

Gus is a likable and convincing hero. Not only does he see Cydney as a whole person (and likes what he sees), but his character incorporates attractive dashes of insight and sensitivity without ever making him less credible as a “real guy.” I thought his bafflement over all the things that apparently make women cry what they claim are “happy tears” was much funnier than Cydney dropping a rock on his toe and breaking it, not to mention a lot more subtle (more about humor in a moment).

Although Cydney and Gus have strong opinions about whether or not Bebe and Aldo should get married, the author skillfully shows us the characters behaving like themselves and lets us make our own judgments. Our shifting perceptions of almost everyone keep us engaged even though the plot is pretty straightforward.

Bebe, in particular, is revealed in layers; our sense of her evolves dramatically as her true nature becomes clear. Everyone, however, with the exception of Aldo, undergoes some kind of transformation and it’s an excellent example of how much energy secondary characters can contribute to a story without stealing focus from the hero and heroine.

One thing I didn’t like was the reliance on physical violence to provide “laughs.” I’m not a fan of slapstick to begin with, and these folks needed an astonishing number of ice packs and trips to the emergency room. They hit each other, they dropped things on each other (they even dropped each other), sometimes accidentally and sometimes on purpose. The result was blood drawn, bones broken, even a concussion. I don’t find this kind of mayhem particularly hilarious - to my mind, Gus and Cydney’s repartee was more humorous and more entertaining.

But, even if the book occasionally felt like a brawl, Gus and Cydney’s appealing love story won the day in convincing fashion. I enjoyed this book, and I’ll be looking for Ms. Michaels’ next release.

--Judi McKee


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