Heart's Desire

Love's Celebration

A Magical Moment

The Look of Love by Monica Jackson
(Arabesque/BET, $4.99, PG-13) ISBN 1-58314-021-2
The romance genre is continuing to evolve. One of this year's more interesting trends is the increase in the number of romances that featured full-figured heroines. Van Whitfield's There's Something Wrong with Your Scale, Anna Larence's Give and Take and two romances by Raynetta Maņees -- Fantasy and a novella "All the Way Home" -- are among the stories I've reviewed for TRR this year. Each romance had main characters who sported double-digit dress sizes. Artist Peter Paul Reubens would be pleased!

Monica Jackson's latest novel, The Look of Love, is another welcome departure from the one-size-fits-all school of romance. It is the story of private duty nurse Carmel Matthews. Carmel's home health care agency has been hired to take care of Marvin Reynolds, a cantankerous retired physician. As the novel begins Carmel's patient sees fit to make comments about his size 20 caregiver: "Food must get up off the table and run when it sees you coming."

Carmel shrugs of his taunts, demands his respect and peace is momentarily restored. What Carmel cannot shrug off is her attraction to her patient's son, Dr. Steve Reynolds, a top plastic surgeon. Steve is recently divorced from the lovely Sienna Lake, "a poster child for today's black superwoman. She looked like she had had it all -- beauty, money, and a successful corporate career, even though the rich, professional handsome husband was history." When Carmel takes her own personal inventory, she feels she doesn't measure up and becomes depressed. She embarks on an ill-fated diet.

However, Steve is attracted to Carmel and can't understand her need to diet. He tries to convince her that he likes her the way she is. Often his words do not match his actions and Carmel decides to work on her own self-esteem while Steve works out his own issues. Two major issues are female -- his mother and his ex-wife. Both have taken a venomous dislike to Carmel and object to their relationship. In one of the book's many interesting scenes, Carmel takes exception when Sienna compares Carmel's appearance in a bright red dress to a fire truck.

Carmel has raised the application of comfort food to an art form. Chocolate metaphors abound.

"Steve was like a candy bowl in front of a starving person; Hershey's kisses, preferably unwrapped, dark chocolate and melt-in-your-mouth luscious."

"At that moment Carmel felt like diving headfirst into a bag of Snickers bars and remaining there for several days."

There are several comical scenes within the novel -- such as Carmel's insistence on making love with the lights off. However, its underlying message is serious. The Look of Love deals with weight and body image issues many women face. It touches upon bulimia, self-acceptance and the impact of weight issues among women within a family. The novel also offers a glimpse of the cruelty the overweight face.

The relationship between Carmel and Steve is very well defined. Beyond the surface attraction are underlying questions they both grapple with. Most of the secondary character play well off the main characters. Although I did find Steve's mother quite annoying, I could appreciate the way in which Carmel dealt with her.

Two female characters even utter the "O-word" -- Oprah -- in their discussion about sex and the plus sized single woman. At times the author is a bit heavy-handed with the notion that if you are thin you are chronically unhappy.

The Look of Love is a welcome look at love from a markedly different vantage point.

--Gwendolyn Osborne

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