Sara's Song by Fern Michaels
(Zebra, $6.99, G) ISBN 0-8217-5856-X
***
After a sharp beginning, Sara's Song takes an unexpected left turn and loses its early focus until it suddenly lurches back on track in the final chapter. It reads as though the author wrote the first few chapters, decided how she intended to end it, but never quite figured out how to get over the middle ground.

A romance features a hero and heroine falling in love. This is tough to do when the author hasn't figured out who's the hero.

Dr. Sara Killian is on duty in a hospital emergency room (which later turns out to be somewhere in California) on a slow night. A nurse prophesizes that there'll be a rush of accidents once the Dallas Lord concert lets out. Dallas Lord is a pop singer who is compared to Elvis in his fame and impact. Suddenly an ambulance brings them an emergency; Dallas Lord's guitarist and best friend has had a heart attack. While Dallas is a musical superstar; he's loaded with a sense of his inadequacies, and his business acumen is nonexistent. His brother Adam has been the intellectual and legal force behind his and the band's success.

Even though they are introduced by tragedy, Dallas (who has a serious history of dysfunctional relationships) is attracted by the solid family traditions that Sara represents. Dallas recognizes in Sara the wholesomeness and goodness he's been missing in his relationships with other women, particularly the most recent with back-up singer Sandi Sims, and their friendship develops into an engagement. Without her knowledge, Dallas arranges for Sara to lose her position at the hospital so that she can travel with him on tour once they're married.

When Dallas's small plane crashes and he is believed killed in the accident, he seizes the opportunity to disappear into a more normal lifestyle. (Whatever happened to identification of remains by dental records? ) Adam is left with the responsibilities of funeral and estate. He only learns later of Sara's existence and that Dallas has written a final song for her although Sandi claims that he actually wrote it for her and Sara stole it. Adam goes to Sara to try to buy the song (posterity demands she share Dallas' last song) and finds himself attracted to her. Sara is no shallow gold-digger and refuses to sell.

At this point, Adam and his emotional difficulties become the focus of the book, and Dallas fades into memory.

Meanwhile, Sandi has become obsessed with obtaining the tape with Dallas's final song, and Sara's life is threatened. The story takes another sudden turn into the suspense genre with inexplicable sensations of being watched and desperate flights in the night.

Up until the very end, there's considerable uncertainty which brother is going to end up with the heroine. They don't know. She doesn't know. And as far as great sex being the tell-tale indicator, there's isn't anything hotter than kisses and not many of those.

Sara's a rare heroine: she's thirty-nine and could stand to lose ten pounds. She's also too perfect for words. Intelligent (naturally she's the one who figures out Dallas's problem), ethical, compassionate, generous, liked, respected, and a great cook to boot. Except for that dash to a secret hideaway instead of the more sensible dash to the police station, she behaves like the mature, responsible woman she's supposed to be. It says good things for both Dallas and Adam that they're attracted to her over the bimbo Sandi.

Dallas and Adam share nearly equal prominence in the story. Frankly in my opinion, Adam should have been the hero from the beginning. I sympathized more with Adam's problems and his way of handing them than I did with Dallas's. The author tries to portray Adam as cold and obsessed with business, particularly when he fails to attend the guitarist's funeral, but I didn't buy it—he has too many balancing good qualities. This guy's an adult and Sara's intellectual and professional equal.

Dallas, on the other hand, is still caught in adolescence. In an attempt to make the reader sympathize with the poor lonely superstar, Dallas is loaded with a dysfunctional childhood and an emotionally sterile existence. Dallas's feelings of inadequacy, especially his suspicion that he's retarded, are ridiculous. He may not be the brightest bulb in the chandelier, but retarded? Get real. I particularly disliked his secretive, manipulative maneuvering. Does this portend an open, mutually giving marriage?

I believe that Sara's Song would have been better either if the author had gone with Adam's developing importance, or if she'd relentlessly crammed Adam down and kept Dallas in the forefront then given Adam his own book later.

But the book kept my interest unlike some I've read lately, and I found the characters engaging. And wonder of wonders: they were around forty instead of twenty and, by and large, they acted like it!

--Lesley Dunlap


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