Kenneth W. Starr
(A Harlequin Romance)
his is another one of those "romance" novels so beloved of Harlequin fans, but here the reader is asked to swallow a fairly unbelievable and messy plot.
The putative hero, identified merely as "P," is the very successful head of what is described as an advanced democratic state. He falls into a series of lurid encounters with a pneumatic young lady named Monica, and she --- apparently --- becomes his downfall. While Monica bills herself as a heroine straight out of "Romeo and Juliet," she comes across more as one of the Sirens in Homer's "Odyssey."
Monica and Mr. P go through endless and not very original courtship and love-making routines, including such plot-groaners as "Wearing a navy blue dress from the Gap..." The moist scenes between them may strike some Harlequin regulars as too graphic, but we must emphasize that the author has a writing style no better than that of a county clerk. His attempts to introduce scatological novelty (stains on the dress! half-smoked cigars!) merely confirm to this reviewer that Starr couldn't write his way out of a paper-bag. Furthermore, having love scenes interrupted (or augmented by) gardeners and Congressional telephone calls are literary tricks that went out with brass hub-caps.
And then, there is the dialogue. Oy! the dialogue. These are the words, for example, from a man who is identified as an important ambassador:
I said, are you sure; and he said, yeah, yeah, I'm sure, why. And I said...are you sure, though you don't want to talk to anyone else...And he said no, no, I think it's fine; why don't you go ahead and give her an offer...
here are many improbable characters floating around in The Report. There is, for example, a "tape" lady with the unlikely name of Linda Tripp who thinks of herself as The Recording Angel, but comes across more like a modern-day Lady Macbeth. Another peculiar character is the wife of "Mr. P" who spends most of her time off-stage. Any novelist worth his salt would not be sending her off to South Africa or Mozambique during the heavy petting scenes; instead, he would have her coming in the door or calling on the telephone. Her character is so scantily drawn that we suggest that she be eliminated in the next edition.
Finally, and most damning, the author manages to insinuate his way into every scene of the book. For instance, whenever "Juliet" and "The P" are about to embark on a moment of passion, he dutifully writes, "Sexual Encounter #7, February 24, 1997." Even freshmen at the Iowa's Writers' Workshop would tell you that this does not create reader involvement (for an example of the correct approach, see "Lady Chatterly's Lover,"op cit.)
Starr's prose is filled with so many clumsy cross-references and footnotes that after awhile it becomes impossible to figure out who is doing what to whom, and why. His personal obsession with cigars, brassieres, brassiere straps, buckles and ladies leaning over (in dark hallways) makes us think he learned all about the birds and the bees from some second rate Victorian novel.
All good stories --- especially of the "romance school" --- give us just enough of the love scenes to tantalize us, and make us beg for more. But The Report is so wet and overloaded that we found ourselves gasping for air, would advise readers looking for a tale of concupiscence inside the Beltway to seek it elsewhere.
Note: Despite its amateurish character development and plot-line, the publishers tell us that a new and larger edition of the tale will be forthcoming, complete with photographs.
Our suggestion is that instead of shots of the faces of the characters, the editors might aim their cameras further south. These private parts are, after all, the true principals in this drama --- and they should be shown up for what they really are.
--- L W Milam