If you turn to the back inner jacket of Commitments, you’ll discover that it is a re-release of a 1988 paperback that is still available at Amazon and other on-line sources for less than half the price of this hardcover. So should you bother? At least Barbara Delinsky resisted the temptation to “revise” or “update” this 13 year old romance novel. Commitments was one of my favorite Delinsky’s, written before she became a Grande Dame of Women’s Fiction, and it holds up remarkably well.
Derek McGill and Sabrina Stone’s first meeting is brief but memorable. Derek is an investigative television reporter who is researching a story on parents coping with mentally disabled children. Sabrina is the wealthy wife of a successful businessman and the mother of Nicky, a toddler with severe brain damage. Although Sabrina refuses Derek’s request for a formal interview, the two make an immediate emotional connection.
Eighteen months later, Sabrina finds herself visiting Derek in an unlikely place - a maximum security prison. Derek has been convicted of manslaughter, although he knows he was set up and railroaded when one of his investigations got too close to someone powerful. Sabrina’s marriage is falling apart and she is overwhelmed with the full-time responsibility for caring for Nicky. At first, Derek tries to push Sabrina away, not wanting her to see his humiliation. But gradually he realizes he has something to offer - his compassion for her difficult situation - and a strong relationship is forged. But do these two very different people have a future, even if Derek wins parole? And will his crusade for revenge against the man who cost him two years of freedom cause him to sacrifice his relationship with Sabrina?
In my review of another Delinsky novel, I decried the author’s movement into the Serious Women’s Fiction market, and noted wistfully that she was more fun to read when she was writing juicy romances. Well, Commitments is one of those juicy romances that I enjoyed, before Delinsky turned her focus towards discussions of Alzheimer’s (Shades of Grace), custody battles (A Woman’s Place) and other Serious Issues. While the problems of the corrections system and the challenges of raising a child with a severe disability are touched upon, the main focus is definitely the relationship between Derek and Sabrina. And a hot one it is, too. Sabrina’s visits to Derek in prison melt the pages with smoldering sexual frustration that explodes when he becomes a free man. There are probably more love scenes in this book than in two or three of Delinsky’s more recent books put together.
As a full-length novel, Commitments features several engaging secondary characters that wouldn’t have fit into the author’s category romances from the same era. Sabrina’s parents and brother are all unconventional writers. Her mother’s futile attempt to comfort Sabrina by suggesting how her futuristic fantasy characters would have handled the situation is both amusing and pathetic. Sabrina’s brother, a fictional Stephen King, also provides some interesting dynamics, as well as a briefly mentioned secondary romance. Sabrina’s efforts to distance herself from her eccentric family once led her to marry the wrong man, but she eventually finds a way to accept them as they are.
The novel has a definite 80’s feel to it - at times, the glamorous Sabrina feels like a character who wandered away from “Dynasty” - but it still reads well. There are a few signs of age - a Gary Hart joke here (remember him?), an IUD there (do those even still exist?) - but the surest sign that Commitments is a relic of the 80’s is that several characters talk about the possibility of abortion without being struck dead by lightning. Of course, no actual abortion occurs, but these days a character is considered sick, twisted and evil to even mention it.
The second half of the novel isn’t as tight as the first, as the exquisite romantic tension of Sabrina’s visits to the incarcerated Derek is replaced by endless bouts of lovemaking in the Jacuzzi interspersed with Derek’s quest for revenge. But even so, Commitments is a good old-fashioned Delinsky love story. If you can’t find the paperback at your local used book store or on-line, the hardcover isn’t a bad investment.