Annie's Wild Ride

When a Man Loves a Woman
by Alina Adams
(Dell, $6.50, PG-13) ISBN 0-440-23510-3
Alina Adams made quite a splash with her last contemporary, Annie’s Wild Ride. More than a few romance readers -- this one included -- thought it was one of the most compelling contemporary romances of 1998. Thus, expectations run high for When a Man Loves a Woman. Are these expectations met? Yes and no. This is a very good contemporary romance with an interesting premise and well developed characters. If it lacks the originality of Annie, it nevertheless is a fine book.

As the back blurb notes, this book asks the question, “Can a man and a woman really be just friends?” The answer seems to be no. But there is an underlying message that may seem foreign to this society where personal gratification at any cost has become its motto. Honor and duty may require that friendship is the only proper relationship even when a man loves a woman.

James Elliot and Deborah Brody met in medical school. Assigned as lab partners, they became each other’s study partner, confidant, cheerleader, sounding board, and best friend as they navigated the extreme demands of their chosen profession. Perhaps they could have been more, but three weeks before she started medical school, Deb married Max Brody, a real prince among men who is totally supportive of his new wife’s ambitions.

Twenty years later, Elliot and Brody, as they call each other, are still best friends and colleagues. Elliot is head of the pediatric trauma unit at a large Los Angeles hospital and Brody is the head of pediatric neurosurgery. Their colleagues wonder about their relationship, but indeed they are “just friends.”

Then Max dies suddenly of a heart attack. Again, to quote the back blurb, “Still reeling from her husband’s sudden death, Deborah turns to Elliot in passion and grief.” The genie is out of the bottle and can’t be forced back in. Their relationship has altered. Elliot knows what he wants; he has loved Deb for twenty years. Deborah is obviously more conflicted. Loyal to the man she married, the man who loved and supported her, the man she did love, she has never dared examine her real feelings for her best friend or his real feelings for her.

Complicating their relationship are hospital politics which Adams paints with a deft hand. The ruthless competition for limited funding among all the ambitious doctors with their own agendas is undoubtedly all too true to life, but it causes problems for Elliot and Brody.

As in her previous book, Adams excels at creating the background to her story. Just as in Annie, the reader entered the world of Air Force pilots, here we come to enter the world of modern medicine and the lives of the doctors who deal daily with crises that we can only imagine. The psyches of those men and women who take their scalpels to cut into human flesh become a little more comprehensible, thanks to the author’s descriptive gifts.

Still, what matters most in this book are the characters and their relationship. The conflict that almost tears Brody and Elliot apart strikes me as completely believable. It is compounded of Brody’s fears and insecurities and Elliot’s pride and his own fears. I suppose some readers may fault some of Brody’s actions, some of her responses. But even when I found her behavior ill-considered, I understood where she was coming from. This is the mark of a good author.

There was some controversy about the ending of Annie. Many online readers expressed doubts that the hero and heroine, despite their love, could indeed live happily ever after, given their radically different personalities. There is no such ambiguity here. Once Brody and Elliot work through the very real problems that Adams details so effectively, it becomes clear that while a man and a woman can indeed be just friends if necessary, real friendship is the strongest foundation for love.

--Jean Mason

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