I don’t feel like writing tonight.
But I am posting something! So my promise has been kept.
Back in 2017, I was still reading romance novels. (My bitter bitch faze didn’t begin until 2018.) At the recommendation of a friend, I read The Hostage by Susan Wiggs.
The Hostage is about a recently molested Chicago debutante and a vengeful Native American man. (Half Native American? I don’t remember. And I don’t actually care.) He kidnaps her, they fight a lot, then somewhere along the way they fall in love and have a lot of sex.
I have never been so wrathful in my response to a novel.
Tonight, I gift you my scathing Goodreads review. The thought of it still brings a smile to my face two years later. I hope it brings one to yours! Don’t get too close – the heat of my criticism may cause third degree burns.
“She had to warm him with her body heat. Like the two men under the moose hide in the campfire story. The men who had warmed each other with their body heat. Skin to skin contact.”
Okay, I’ve considered myself a Susan Wiggs fan for a while now. Even though a couple of her books have provided me simply with mild enjoyment, rather than all-out shakes and shivers. But this book.
We begin with a rather long, desperately poetic description of the Chicago fire of 1871. I’m a patient person, but I’m not gonna lie, I was pretty damn bored. But I powered through. Because I am patient.
We’re finally taken to our heroine, Deborah Sinclair, who Wiggs is apparently trying to pass off as deceptively simple-minded and spoiled, even though there is obviously something else going on. Something that is in fact very serious, but that I guessed within the first few pages of chapter one. (view spoiler) Deborah is intent on cancelling her engagement to the fabulously well-connected Phillip Ascot, so off we go to Daddy’s mansion to beg escape.
We’re then introduced to our hero… *looks askance around the room* Hero?… Yeah, hero, I guess – Tom Silver. He’s in a very dark place because an explosion at one of Daddy Sinclair’s mines killed his foster son, so has he come to demand retribution? Nope. He is set to flat out shoot the bastard in sleep. Will Tom be hanged for his crime? Who cares? Not Tom. Vengeance must be swift! Unfortunately for vengeance, the city-wide fire gets in the way.
Long story short, Tom misses his chance to become a murderer and decides to make pretty Miss Sinclair his hostage instead. Tom sails Deborah all the way to his home in Isle Royale, a journey that literally felt as long in book time as in real time, or possibly longer. The interaction between our hero and heroine mainly consists of “you’re an annoying brat” “you’re so cold” “stay in here with your hands tied” “you have no heart” kind of outbursts. Now this is all normal romance novel kind of stuff, except it lasts chapters and chapters. And I know what you’re thinking! It must be leading up to something big. But, people, we’re not even at the halfway point yet. No, no, excitement can’t come until the last of these four hundred pages!
Once in Isle Royale, Tom and Deborah continue to bicker about her so-called helplessness, even though both of them can’t help but acknowledge her usefulness as she helps people in the village do things like gut fish and sew. But then “ice-up” comes, and through a lot of somewhat ridiculous circumstances the two are forced to live in the same cabin together the entire winter. As a reader three hundred pages in, bored as stiff as that horse that died in the snow a couple chapters ago, this is the perfect opportunity to FINALLY have some of the intimacy and excitement build in this relationship.
I was still bored bored BORED. Even during – at last – the description of the horrible something that happened to Deborah that I already knew about the whole flipping time. I wouldn’t have been so bored if there had just been more of a SIZZLE between these two, but it was more like an awkward…broil? Tom would say and think these things that were pretty hot, but of course it would fall flat because these characters have nothing to talk about besides the things they refuse to talk about that we already know about!
And after two lovely consensual kisses shared, Deborah asks simply: “Can we?”
THAT, ladies and gentlemen, is our build up.
And after weeks, months, who knows, of vigorous lovemaking we get this delightful little textbook conflict that still leaves great minds everywhere baffled:
“It can never work.”
…Why the fuck not?
Luckily, even though it CAN’T WORK, and they’re TOO DIFFERENT, Deb and Tom manage to tape everything back together within the span of twenty randomly life-threatening pages, without any verbal realization that it can in fact work. Good for them.
But, just, no.
Needless to say, I was really disappointed by this book (and amazed by my own endurance). I’m normally very fond of Wiggs writing style, but this seemed nothing like her! Every single moment of the book, even fairly meaningless ones, were drawn out for pages. And reading from the heroine’s POV meant paragraphs of reflections that were so elaborate and poetic they almost bordered on saccharine, all while she told us things we already know! We alllllll know, Deborah.
In spite of that, all the novels “secrets” were treated as such, skirted around in the narration. I felt like I was being told a story, rather than placed within one. And don’t even get me started with the force-fed political and social inserts. I’m completely all right with an author subtly, sensitively tracing her plot line or character development with social commentary, if it’s applicable to the story. But to throw things like Darwin’s Origin of the Species in right out of the blue?? Not to mention the constant repetition of Deborah’s struggle with independence. “They always said I couldn’t do anything, I was like a doll, I felt x, y, z, I couldn’t do x, y, z” – EVERY – SINGLE – PAGE
A good romance requires tact, deep insight into the minds of the readers. And, dammit, you need a hero and heroine with flesh and blood. And you need to be willing to do some serious CUTS. What was with all the bear metaphor stuff? I don’t know. I just know I WASTED. VALUABLE. TIME.
Rating: 1.5 Stars? 1 moose. 0.5 opera-singing bears. Asa would be ashamed.