tbr challenge post: May

I’ve really fallen behind on Wendy’s 2015 TBR Challenge (which could be why my TBR pile is approximately ceiling high). But May’s theme is “Kickin’ It Old School,” and I have SO MANY vintage paperbacks on my shelves, so I couldn’t pass this one up.

Title: With Open Arms

Author: Kathy Alderling

Publication date: 1986

Line: Candlelight Ecstasy Supreme #111

barn elves
Locked in a passionate embrace, they failed to notice the tragedy that had befallen the tiny Barn Elves.

Reading something from the past is like time travel. There’s a clunky, clunky “to our readers” note at the beginning that talks about “the great romantic tradition you’ve come to expect only from Candlelight Ecstasy.” Wow, be less subtle. I guess the Romance Wars really were a thing.

Also, I don’t think Dell had worked out that romance readers were in the mood for romance novels, because the ads at the back not only include the order form for other Candlelight Romances, and a page devoted to some book called “How to Make a Man Fall in Love With You” (ugh), but ALSO something called “Victim: The Other Side of Murder” AND a book about a nine-year-old who died of leukemia. It’s like the marketing department launched a full-out assault on the happy ending by sticking their Ultimate Buzzkill Selection at the back.

The book is about grad student Ruth Mueller, who has been overworking herself as the assistant to a self-absorbed anthropologist she’s convinced herself she’s in love with. The rose-coloured glasses shatter when the jerk replaces her with a younger infatuated-assistant whose father chairs a private endowment fund–in other words, he casts away Ruth’s devotion for funding. She salvages enough of her self-respect to convince him she needs to go do independent research for her Ph.D., and he agrees to keep her teaching position open for the year she’ll be gone.

So she returns to her elderly aunt’s farm in Elkhart country, where she intends to study her Amish neighbours. Her aunt has gone into partnership with (and sold half the farm to, yikes; every nerve in my body was on edge about this EVEN THOUGH this is a romance novel, so of course it was going to work out. Seriously, though: don’t bestow major chunks of property on men you’ve known for three years.) Jacob Yoder, her formerly-Amish farmhand.

He left the Amish, was shunned for ten years, and is only now returning to a state of uneasy peace with his family and neighbours. Which leads to the book’s biggest conflict: he’s sleeping with Ruth, but won’t acknowledge her in front of anyone Amish because he doesn’t want to jeopardize the fragile ties he’s forming.

Which was just too high on the Jerk Quotient for me to overcome, even with the declarations of love at the end. I liked the book–I liked Ruth and her aunt, like the tiny glimpses of the Amish, liked the way Jacob kept reminding her that they were people, not just subjects for research–but I just couldn’t overcome my dislike of the hero.

Silently they drank their coffee and listened to the conversations around them. Once Ruth tried to start a conversation of their own, but Jacob shook his head. “Too noisy. Can’t hear you,” he said.

Ruth smiled and looked down at her cup. Don’t push, she thought, and tried not to feel too discouraged. (p.250)

It’d be one thing if he’d wanted to get involved with Ruth but didn’t, resisting their attraction because of his reputation among the Amish. Being willing to bed her but ashamed to acknowledge her? Yuck. A man who does that, for ANY reason, is not a Good Man.

Her voice smoldered with contempt. “You worked awfully hard at keeping our relationship hidden. Afraid, were you, that your fine Amish family would find out about us? Have you found someone more acceptable now, and so it’s time to break it off between us?”

Jacob looked away. His fear and confusion had been spent in a single burst of mindless retribution. Shamed by his own words, Jacob could not look into Ruth’s anguished eyes. (p. 253)

He doesn’t explain for another fifty pages, though. It was upsetting enough to me that even the happy ending couldn’t quite overcome it.  It was like a rerun of Ruth’s issues at the beginning, with Jerk Professor, only with sex added in to make the rejection more crushing. Jacob’s explanation–that because she didn’t tell him she’d accepted a job at a local college, he’d had no idea she was staying–doesn’t really help.

He was afraid to ask her to stay because it would be urging her to give up everything she wanted (except she’d told him all about her various disappointments with academia anyway, and he knew she loved the farm, so….couldn’t they discuss it?). She was afraid to tell him AGAIN that she loved him because she wanted him to be free to return to an Amish life (which was a reasonable assumption, given that he wouldn’t let her touch his arm in front of some Amish people, and yelled at her for attending a barnraising that literally everyone in the county went to).

Perhaps I am just Old and Cantankerous, but two people this afraid to impose on each other in any way should maybe just keep their clothes on and learn to use their words first.

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2 thoughts on “tbr challenge post: May

  1. Oh man, this sounds like it could have been fantastic – but ugh. That was my thought – that the heroine was basically reliving her “relationship” with Jerk Professor over again with Amish Guy – but with sex added for a more emotionally crushing effect. It’s like the romance genre equivalent of Groundhog Day.

    But man, what a fantastic premise – and in a category romance from the 80s!

    1. Yes, it was really strange: the romance was my least-favourite part of this book. But the setting, the honest look at the pressures on grad students (even including Jerk Professor–I hated him, but I have to be honest: I’ve met his real life counterparts), the tensions between the Amish and their neighbours: all awesome! The relationship, though, was far too “he can use me, but I mustn’t impose on him!” for my taste.

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