The Family Man
by Melinda Curtis
(Harl. Super #1241, $5.50, G) ISBN 0-373-71241-3
**
Part of the Twins series, The Family Man is a relatively dark story of people who are emotionally wounded and whose whole lives have been affected. While well-written, the topic itself is not one to make you feel good and much of the story is depressing.

Thea Gayle is determined. Her mother walked out on the family when she was only 10 in order to go to Africa and find a cure for AIDS. Her legacy was that Thea needed to make something of herself. So she is trying to study for tests so she can get her Ph.D. and then she wants to discover something important. (The exact nature of all this was relatively vague, but the point was to be somebody). But Thea is also poor, so she takes a job as a nanny to twin ten-year-old girls. The girl's mother has died of cancer and Thea is hired by their truck-driving father Wes, who seems to be gone a lot. When he doesn't return for three weeks and they get evicted from the apartment, Thea doesn't think things can get much worse. The girls mention they have an uncle in Idaho, so off they go.

The uncle is Logan McCall. He is a Hot Shot, a wilderness fire fighter who is gone much of the summer fighting fires wherever they need him. He is also grieving and depressed from the loss of his twin sister, the girl's mother. He lives in an isolated area of Idaho with his aunt who is suffering from the onset of senility. Thea and the girls move in. Thea is determined to leave once he finds another nanny, but nannies don't grow on trees. So she stays.

The entire story is about Thea helping this dysfunctional little family adjust to their loss and find life again. And she does it kicking and screaming the whole way. She doesn't want to help, but what can she do? The girls need her, Aunt Glen needs her and most of all, Logan needs her. All of his friends agree that he is not like he used to be. He doesn't let the sunshine into his house; he mopes; he doesn't want anyone to go into the room where his sister died and he certainly doesn't want Thea. On one hand, he wants the girls out of guilt (his sister asked him to take guardianship of them); but he knows he would not be good for them, either. His father was an abuser, so he naturally assumes he will be too. He spends most of the story being surly.

Thea is not much better. She still bears the scars of her mother leaving her with her dad, who tried, but was not a great dad. She is determined to get her degree, yet she always finds things that will help her put it off. And while she grows to love the girls on the one hand, she pushes them away with the other. She thinks they all need to see a counselor, and frankly, I could not agree more. Despite the happy ending, these folks need help, and the love of a good woman is not enough.

It is hard to enjoy a tale full of so much woe. The girls, Hannah and Tess, are equally sad, just showing their sadness in different ways. Hannah eats and Tess is withdrawn. They miss their mother but no one lets them grieve or talk about her. Their father is a low-life, apparently only wanting the money from Deb's will. They spend most of the story scared that either their dad will come back or that Logan will send them to a foster home.

Stories where love heals are a staple of romance stories and are often heartwarming. Another staple is the tale of people with bad upbringings making something of themselves despite the challenges. However, The Family Man is not a good example of either of those standards. It is sad, gloomy and full of people who truly need professional help. I suggest you pass this by for something more cheery.

--Shirley Lyons


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