The Real Father by Kathleen O'Brien
(Harl. Super. #927, $4.50, PG) ISBN 0-373-70927-7
The Real Father could be and should be a lot better. The premise is intriguing and the plot has a lot of promise, but in the end, it fails to deliver.

Eighteen-years-old and pregnant, Molly Lorring left town after her boyfriend Beau died in a car crash. She has built a new life for herself and her daughter in Atlanta, Georgia, but ten years later, Molly returns to her hometown of Demery, South Carolina, to complete a work assignment for her self-owned landscaping company. In the ten years since Beau's death, Molly hasn't been intimately involved with anyone; in fact, the only sexual experience she has ever had was on the night of her senior prom...the night her daughter Liza was conceived. Upon returning to Demery, however, Molly finds herself developing an attraction to Beau's identical twin brother Jackson...

Thirty-two-year-old Jackson Forrest has been in love with Molly Lorring his entire life. She is all he has ever wanted, even though all Molly ever wanted was Beau. For ten years, Jackson has been consumed with guilt over an event that occurred the night of Beau's death, the night of Molly's senior prom when Jackson had made love to her, allowing her to believe he was his twin brother Beau. But when Molly returns to Demery with a daughter who is a dead ringer for a Forrest, the secret can only be contained for so long...

Unfortunately, the secret is contained until the last five pages of the book, which turns out to be one of The Real Father's major flaws. The reader knows who Liza's dad is, even Jackson knows he's her father, yet nothing is discussed between Molly and Jackson about Liza's paternity until the very end of the novel, by which time "the revelation" has become anticlimactic in the extreme.

Another serious shortcoming of The Real Father is that the characters in the book lack a certain luster; they exhibit no fire, no true passion, and they fail to jump out and grab a readerís attention and empathy. It is conceivable that this flaw stems from the fact that the book's major conflict (Liza's paternity) isn't spoken about until the novel is all but over. Had the author chosen to make Jackson's sin known to Molly toward the book's beginning, there would have been more raw emotion to build the characters from.

Instead, what the reader gets is 298 pages filled with descriptions of the boring, everyday lives of two ordinary people. For instance, there is a scene in which Molly and Jackson go shopping for flowers is five pages long. Five incredibly dull pages filled with descriptions of the flower store and the different types of flowers they are looking at. Unless you get a certain excitement out of horticultural narrative, chances are you will find scenes such as this one an impediment to staying awake long enough to finish the book.

The most critical blow to The Real Father can also be attributed to poor character development in that none of the book's actors seem very real. They think and do things that most normal people wouldn't. There are two children, for instance, that play a center stage role in the plot, Liza and Tommy. Not only do Liza and Tommy have several long, drawn out scenes together that should never have made it past the editor's desk (this is supposed to be a romance, not children's fiction), but they are simply not believable as kids. Liza and Tommy are nine-year-olds who analyze their feelings and situations with the clarity and gravity of forty-year-olds. More preposterous still, they analyze themselves and each other with the use of metaphors. For example, Liza describes Tommy's eyes, eyes that show her he's a good person, as "cool eyes the color of rye grass." (Rye grass?) And Tommy compares his precarious emotional state to the fizz that comes out of a bottle of soda pop. These children are simply too deep to be taken seriously.

Unfortunately, there isn't much to be said about The Real Father that is overwhelmingly positive. On one hand, its storyline isn't so bad that it deserves a one heart rating, but on the other hand, there is nothing about it that particularly stands out in one's mind either. The novel starts out with a lot of promise, but simply fails to live up to its own expectations, which in the end, perhaps, is its most fatal flaw.

--Tina Engler

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