The Seduction of His Wife
by Janet Chapman
(Pocket, $6.99, PG-13) ISBN 1-4165-0527-X
What are the chances one book would contain all these overused romance novel cliches?

The virgin widow.

The secret arranged marriage.

The doormat heroine.

The heroine who distrusts all men because they are only attracted to her beautiful face and curvaceous figure.

The long-suffering heroine who never complains about life’s injustices.

The hero who suspects all women of duplicity because his first wife married him for his money then left him and the kiddies when she didn’t get the expensive lifestyle she expected.

The hero who pushes the heroine into a life-threatening situation then acts as though she is the one at fault.

Hard as it is to believe, The Seduction of His Wife has every one – yes, each and every one – along with several others for sharp-eyed readers.

And that’s one of the book’s lesser flaws. This book is a strong candidate for The Worst Romance of 2006.

Alex Knight has been mistakenly reported dead while on a engineering job in South America. He tried repeatedly to phone home to let his family – his father, two brothers, and son and daughter – know that he was still alive but could never reach them. When he finally arrives at the family homestead in the north woods of Maine, he’s confronted by a beautiful woman holding a shotgun who insists she’s his wife. It seems that his father Grady, worried that Alex’s deceased ex-wife’s parents might gain custody of his children, with the aid of a cooperative judge arranged a predated proxy marriage and adoption of the children by Sarah Banks.

Sarah had run a bed and breakfast on a small island where Grady and the children had vacationed. They were so taken by her that Grady hired her to be their housekeeper and promised she could open a cabin resort at a lake on the Knights’ large NorthWoods Timber property.

Sarah had been married at seventeen to a man who wanted her to hide his natural predilection for other men, and she had been dominated by both her husband and his authoritative mother. Many men have tried to proposition her because she’s phenomenally good-looking, but she distrusts them all. Her isolated upbringing has left her with limited experience so many of her ideas and attitudes have their genesis in TV how-to shows and romance novels.

Alex is forced to accept Sarah’s astonishing claim. After a delicious dinner prepared by Sarah and accompanied by way too much whiskey, they end up in the same bed, and the inevitable happens. Afterwards Alex is infuriated by her scheming – his first wife, etc., etc. – and kicks her out into a freezing cold late November night.

The next day when the rest of his family returns he learns Sarah cannot drive. (Her inability to master the basics of motor vehicle operation is an ongoing theme in this plot.) He realizes that he had left her with no alternative except to walk to the nearest town eight miles away. He heads out to bring her back.

But their personal situation remains unresolved. Will Alex contest the proxy marriage? Will Sarah file for divorce? Will Sarah ever become a feisty independent woman like the romance novel heroines she admires? Will Alex be able to resist the lovely domestic goddess he unknowingly wed? Will Sarah get pregnant the very first time she does it?

Sarah repeatedly calls Alex a “jerk,” but she’s being too kind or her vocabulary is too limited. The plot is based on an illegality – marriage by proxy is not permitted in Maine. (You’d think a judge – not to mention the author – would check into such a detail.) Leaving aside the legality issue, when Alex tosses Sarah into the wintry night miles from any other shelter without even inquiring whether she’s got car keys, this is the woman he believes may be his wife and knows is close to his family. This potentially criminal move is so despicable he places himself beyond redemption. His behavior improves somewhat as the story progresses, but it never comes close to compensating for his initial reaction. And he’s supposed to be the book’s hero!

The Seduction of His Wife taps into a literary tradition: the natural child – a child raised in an environment completely isolated from the artificiality of civilization, devoid of malice and falsehood. Such a person, according to tradition, will be purity and goodness as nature intends. Or maybe she’ll be more like Sarah Knight – dumber’n a post and baffled by machinery.

In a nutshell, The Seduction of His Wife is the tale of a nitwit paired with a jerk by an impossibility. This is supposed to be romance?

I’ve been a sucker for the proxy wedding plot since the time on late-night TV I watched the 1954 movie The Naked Jungle. An austerely handsome Charlton Heston in his pre-cold-dead-hand period and the beautifully-cool-but-passionate Eleanor Parker star as a couple married by proxy whose lives and livelihood are threatened by a vast army of devouring-everything-in-their-path ants. The man versus nature short story “Leiningen Versus the Ants” was cinematically transformed into a lush romantic drama.

More than merely thousands of miles and half a century separate the Naked Jungle from the Maine north woods of The Seduction of His Wife. The movie is worth a couple of hours of your time. The book isn’t worth a moment.

--Lesley Dunlap

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