Mad about Max
by Penny McCusker
(Harl. American 1063, $4.99, PG) ISBN 0373-75067-6
**
Mad About Max is meant to be a cute, funny tale of two people who bumble their way into love. It is cute for about 20 pages, then reading the same jokes gets rather tedious. Some of you may find it a little more engaging than I did.

Sara Lewis has loved Max Devlin for six years. In small Erskine, Montana, that is a secret everyone knows, except Max, who is in major denial of his emotions. One reason the secret is so obvious is because Sara is living in the bunkhouse-turned-cottage on Max's ranch, and she does everything for Max and his eight-year-old son, Joey, except sleep in his bed and officially bear the title of wife.

Max is divorced; his ex-wife choosing fame and fortune in Hollywood over life as a wife and mother in Montana. She still sees Joey and he spends time with her each summer, but Joey has grown up with Sara in his life. Now she is also his third grade teacher. Sara came to Montana when Max got divorced. They had met in college and kept in touch as friends. Sara's crush soon became love. But Max kept Sara at arm's length. Sara was so in love that whenever she was in town around Max, she became a bungled mass of nerves that created accidents. Accidents like people falling off of ladders, cake flying around and general chaos. The townspeople started a betting pool to win money if they picked the hour of the next accident.

Once Sara tells Max that she loves him, Max catches the bug. Sara immediately stops being accident-prone and Max starts. Then Max has to deal with his lack of willingness to confront his emotions and his fear of women abandoning him before they can live happily ever after.

There are several areas of this tale that didn't ring true. First, Sara isn't a bumbling mess when she is at Max's house, only in town in front of others. She apparently cooks, cleans, does laundry and helps raise Joey without any problem and all in the presence of Max. She can hide her feelings behind friendship; until she steps into town and realizes when she sees him how much her heart goes pitter-patter. This just didn't ring true, especially given that it went on for SIX years. At times in the first hundred pages, Sara seemed like such a doormat. Then she changed her mind and decided to make Max suffer and realize he loved her. This sudden turnaround was hard to accept.

Max, on the other hand, is less than endearing. Oh he acknowledges that at times he lusts after Sara, but he never wanted to ruin their friendship (which he swears he thought was all she wanted). “Density” seems to be his middle name. And then it took him over 100 pages to realize it was okay to admit he loved her. “Stubbornness” is name number two.

While some of the situations were humorous, many were rather embarrassing and the townspeople were almost spiteful. The pace was uneven, moving from silly bumbling love to the need for deep introspection to solve the dilemma. That transition was too drastic a change for comfort.

Joey is a cute little boy who acts confused but also is manipulative when he decides to try to get Sara to come back. Sara's friend Janey is supportive of Sara but keeps pushing her to make up with Max. Janey is refreshing in her honesty at times, especially since Max and Sara have such a hard time confronting the tough issues. Her story comes next according to the author's note at the end.

Mad about Max could have been a simple little story about love with a dash of silliness. But there was overkill on the funny and silly and less than this reviewer likes in the common sense department.

--Shirley Lyons


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