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A Cowboy's Tears

The Stardust Cowboy
by Anne McAllister
(Silh. Desire #1219, $3.75, PG-13) ISBN 0-373-76219-4
The Stardust Cowboy is a story with a theme about dreams reborn and realized. This theme is fairly well-executed, touching each character and tying up well enough to give the book a satisfying feel. However, I have to judge the book first and foremost as a romance, and in that regard, it doesn’t work.

As a teenager, Dori Malone chafed under the strict rule of her overbearing father and ran away with handsome, charming country & western singer, Chris Stratton. Dori thought she was in love, but Chris felt otherwise, and when he found she was pregnant with his child, he sent her packing. With nowhere else to go, Dori swallowed her pride and went back home.

Now, she’s a hard-working single mom. Her eight-year-old son, Jake, is happy and healthy, she has a steady if boring job helping to manage her father’s small grocery store, and she’s learned to bite her tongue and keep the peace with her still-obnoxious father. She’s given up her dreams (theme, part one) of love, marriage, and independence to provide a good life for her son.

She’s even managed to maintain an amicable, if distant, relationship with Chris, who has occasionally provided money for the son he’s never met. But when Chris unexpectedly dies in a car accident, Dori and Jake’s world turns upside down.

At his brother’s death, Riley Stratton discovers that Chris had a son, and he feels honor-bound to inform that son that he has inherited Chris’ half of the Stratton family ranch. Jake, who has always dreamed (theme, part two) of becoming a cowboy, is overjoyed, but Dori feels that it’s most sensible to accept Riley’s offer to sell Jake’s half of the ranch to him. The money would provide for Jake’s future, and besides, they don’t know anything about ranching.

But when Dori’s father (a.k.a. the dream-squasher) gruffly informs Jake that he’ll never be a cowboy or a rancher, Dori finally gets fed up. It’s one thing to give up her own dreams, but she won’t stand by and let Jake’s be torn to shreds.

So they descend upon a surprised Riley and move into the ranch house. Riley is actually more than surprised - he’s a little upset. See, Riley has his own dead dreams (theme, part - well, you get the idea). Twelve years ago, his long-time sweetheart dumped him and married another man, ending Riley’s hopes for marriage and children. He’s a one-woman man, you see, and he knows he’ll never love another woman the way he loved Tricia. Of course, Dori’s hard to ignore, especially when she makes herself so useful around the ranch, cooking delicious meals, making curtains, and even deciphering baffling computer programs. And so we finally reach the romance portion of the book, and that’s right about where things start to go downhill.

First of all, Riley is about the biggest mope I’ve ever met in a romance. Come on, it’s been twelve years since he lost his true love, and he’s not over it yet? I gather that this is supposed to show what a steadfast, true-hearted guy he is, but to me, it just made him seem kind of pathetic. He also almost redefines the “strong, silent” type of hero. He barely utters a hundred words to Dori in the course of the novel, and the book repeatedly refers to the fact that “words were not Riley’s medium” and that “feelings were one thing Riley never talked about.”

So how am I supposed to believe that these two are falling in love when their longest conversation comprises roughly fifty words (mostly Dori’s) and revolves around laundry? I’ll answer that question myself - I didn’t believe it.

The best word I can find to describe this romance is “obligatory.” I had no sense that Dori and Riley were getting to know each other on anything but the most surface level. Nothing about the humorless, no-nonsense Riley made me believe that he possessed a hidden wellspring of passion. The love scenes between them seemed utterly contrived, coming out of nowhere as they did, and I saw nothing to convince me that Riley’s superficial relationship with Dori could so easily supplant his twelve-year attachment to Tricia.

It all just happened because it was supposed to happen, because it would be so neat and tidy if Dori and Riley could each resurrect the dead dreams of the other and find true love and happiness together. And, oh yeah, because this is supposed to be a romance novel.

Well, I’m sorry, but you can’t just stick two people together on a ranch and expect me to believe that they fall in love by osmosis. The entire reason I read romance is to see the relationship develop, to see the love bloom and grow. This novel offers nothing along those lines.

And that’s a shame, because even with this cipher of a romantic relationship, I could see that Anne McAllister is a skilled author. Her writing is clear and uncluttered, she shows a glimmer of real humor now and then, and she has created in Dori a capable, intelligent, and likeable character. The dream-theme, too, is well-constructed and lends a cohesiveness to the book. But the romance fails miserably, and that simply can’t be overlooked. Think twice about Stardust Cowboy and in the meantime, dream of better romance novels.

-- Ellen Hestand

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