Last Bride Standing
by Patricia Anne Phillips
(Kensington, $6.99, PG) ISBN 0-7582-0833-2
**
Last Bride Standing features two parallel stories set in two locales, Los Angeles and Kenya. A split-scene tale is one of several ways this book veers from the expected. Another significant difference is that it begins with a couple already married, seemingly happily. Wanda and Steven are then taken on separate stories, his in Los Angeles and hers in Kenya.

Wanda is a successful journalist in Los Angeles who is on her way to a big assignment in Africa. She is thrilled at the opportunity; Steven is distressed about being left alone and concerned that one leg of Wanda’s trip will be by small private jet. Thus it is telegraphed on page one – that plane is going down. And so it does. Steven is left a widower in Los Angeles.

Wanda, meanwhile is actually alive in Kenya but has (of course) amnesia. A family that runs a once successful but now faded safari camp finds her and takes her in. The family’s old Auntie gives her the moniker Orchid. The split screen tales begin and it’s all bread and roses for Wanda/Orchid and Ahmed, and one unfortunate event and/or bad decision after another for Steven. You know that, eventually, she’s going to get her memory back, and then what’s going to happen? Steven has become such a worthless hound dog that there is clearly not going to be a happy reunion.

All I can say is, long before that time, I cared not one whit about what was about to befall Wanda/Orchid and Steven. How much did I dislike this book? Let me count the ways. First, while no one wants to be a slave to “formula,” there is a formula and, by golly, if you are going to buck that formula you better have a compelling story to tell and you better be able to do so in a completely competent fashion. Strikes one and two – not very compelling and way short of competent. Granted, I was reading an uncorrected proof, but it was clear that no amount of editing at this late stage will salvage this book.

This was perhaps the most plodding writing I have ever read. The experience was akin to reading a police blotter, but one that was originally written in another language and then translated (badly) into English. Although this is not the author’s first offering, it is full of rookie mistakes, the worst of which is the pile of back-story downloaded into the first few pages. We learn where Wanda works, how long she’s worked there, where she came from, and how long ago; we learn that Steven was abandoned by his mother at age 10 when they lived in South Central and he never met a woman who could fill the void left by her departure and he was still a child at heart – and we’re not even three pages into the book. An additionally annoying aspect of the writing was the obsession with specific numbers – how long, how many, when, what age, how much – each spelled out in a way that makes the information seem as though it is going to be meaningful, but it never turns out to be.

Other issues with this book? How about plot? Amnesia? Puhhh-leeeeeese. Couldn’t she just re-think things, re-evaluate, and decide that a marriage where a couple is drifting in opposite directions might need some work or might ultimately just not work out? No, apparently not. So what’s the message? Don’t think too much? Get yourself off to live a totally different life and you’ll see what really matters? But do it with amnesia, so you won’t notice that you are giving up your vaunted career without a whimper.

Another plot issue is that Steven is such a collection of negative stereotypes about African-American men that it was acutely uncomfortable to read his story. Of course, the whole book is so poorly written that these stereotypes aren’t likely to get much exposure.

--Laura Scott


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